Can­cer re­search con­tin­ues

Windsor Star - - FRONT PAGE - MARY CATON mca­[email protected]­

Ex­ag­ger­ated claims about the ef­fec­tive­ness of dan­de­lion root as a can­cer cure-all are frus­trat­ing the ef­forts of a lo­cal on­col­o­gist and a bio­chemist con­duct­ing le­git­i­mate re­search into the ex­tract.

As clin­i­cal di­rec­tor of the Wind­sor Can­cer Re­search Group, Dr. Caro­line Hamm fields emails and phone calls ev­ery week from pa­tients who have been mis­led by the reck­less as­ser­tions of a ques­tion­able pub­li­ca­tion or internet site.

“I think most peo­ple are des­per­ate and they hear this stuff and they think it’s not toxic and they think it will cure ev­ery­thing,” Hamm said.

It only takes a shal­low dive into the web to find a head­line shout­ing in bold type “Sci­en­tists find root that kills 98 per cent of can­cer cells in only 48 hours.”

The on­line ar­ti­cle men­tions Hamm by name along with two leukemia pa­tients who tout the heal­ing virtues of dan­de­lion tea.

The ar­ti­cle goes on to claim “fur­ther stud­ies have con­cluded that the ex­tract also has anti-can­cer ben­e­fits for other types of can­cer in­clud­ing breast, colon, prostate, liver and lung can­cer.”

Such sweep­ing dec­la­ra­tions make Hamm cringe.

“We can’t claim any­thing yet,” she said. “It’s very, very early in the process. Ba­si­cally we’ve had some sig­nals and that’s all.”

Hamm has been involved in a re­search study of 30 pa­tients us­ing dan­de­lion root ex­tract for the past year. She said they’re at least an­other year away from com­pil­ing any find­ings.

“Then at least we’ll have some data, which is bet­ter than what we have now and that’s all anec­do­tal,” she said.

Univer­sity of Wind­sor bio­chemist Si­yaram Pandey has been study­ing the anti-can­cer po­ten­tial of dan­de­lion root since 2010 and bo­gus claims only muddy the water and threaten the le­git­i­macy of his re­search.

“There is lots of ma­te­rial on the internet about it with­out any sci­en­tific val­i­da­tion,” Pandey said. “We are con­cerned about it be­cause our whole study could be in­val­i­dated.”

Pandey’s promis­ing work with cell cul­tures and an­i­mals led to dan­de­lion root be­ing “the first nat­u­ral ex­tract re­viewed by Health Canada and ap­proved for clin­i­cal trial,” he said.

“We have pub­lished six re­search ar­ti­cles in good jour­nals,” he added. “We don’t make any claim that this is a miracle drug. It’s very im­por­tant the right mes­sage gets out. We’re very ex­cited about the re­search but peo­ple should only read au­then­tic in­for­ma­tion about it.”

The false hope em­bed­ded in un­founded claims is not limited to dan­de­lion root.

“There are many prod­ucts that peo­ple claim can cure can­cer,” said Dr. Robert Nut­tall, the as­sis­tant di­rec­tor of health pol­icy for the Cana­dian Can­cer So­ci­ety. “Good sci­en­tific re­search has not yet shown that these al­ter­na­tive ther­a­pies are ef­fec­tive or safe in treat­ing can­cer.”

Hamm said ed­u­ca­tion is the key to medic­i­nal myth bust­ing.

“I think we need more ed­u­ca­tion about nat­u­ral medicine,” she said. “Noth­ing is with­out side ef­fects. Ev­ery­thing has side ef­fects.”

Hamm wor­ries about “the peo­ple at the end of their rope” who want to stop tra­di­tional treat­ments in favour of some­thing nat­u­ral.

“Choos­ing to use an al­ter­na­tive ther­apy can have se­ri­ous health ef­fects, such as the can­cer spread­ing or get­ting worse,” Nut­tall said. “De­lay­ing con­ven­tional can­cer treat­ment to use an al­ter­na­tive ther­apy can lower the chances of treat­ing the can­cer suc­cess­fully.”

Nut­tall urges can­cer pa­tients to “make treat­ment decisions with the best avail­able in­for­ma­tion, in­clud­ing knowl­edge of what the treat­ment can, or can­not, do and what the side ef­fects may be. Treat­ments that of­fer the best hope of suc­cess are backed up by good sci­en­tific ev­i­dence.”

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