Autumnal rebuttal

The recent letter (Oct. 25, “Pink is not a fall color) submitted by Dena Schreiner should be ignored by all were it not for the substantial number of errors and misinformation that it contained. In addition, her contention that “cancer awareness/pink colors” are an overdone promotion for a particular corporation; is laughable. One cannot overdo the concept of cancer awareness, and if one color is the “mascot” for cancer, great.

I am not going to respond to or discuss the many charges she levels against Susan B. Koman for the Cure. In some cases, I actually agree with Ms. Schreiner. What does bother me is the writer’s venture into the incredibly complex field of cancer, cancer research and cancer treatment. Many of the author’s views are either partial truths or else completely false. These views also demonstrate a prejudicial attitude to which she is entitled, but not at the expense of factual information.

Her letter confused me. At times, she is specifically talking about breast cancer; in other instances, she seems to be lumping all cancers together as if they were a single disease. They are not! There are approximately 200 different kinds of cancer, affecting virtually every different tissue type of the body with numerous subtypes. Is there a common cause, or for that matter, a common cure? Absolutely not.

Your contention that “there are scientifically proven ways to prevent cancer” is incorrect. What you should say is that there are scientifically proven ways to reduce the risk of some cancers. Every one of us produces cancer cells; throughout our lives, our immune systems destroy those cells. As we age, that immune system does not function as effectively; thus, one of the risk factors for cancer is age. Nutrition is certainly important, but it is not the cure-all that she contends. Proper vitamin intake, including the various Vitamin D’s (too much of which, by the way, increases breast cancer risk) is a part of that nutrition. Other risk factors of equal importance are genetics (eating well doesn’t affect that), family history, weight, race (eg. breast cancer higher in Caucasians) and alcohol consumption. Some of these factors we can control to a certain extent, other risk factors are “built in.”

She wrote against the use of mammography, asserting it causes cancer. Yes in very rare instances, it may increase the risk. However, the dosage of radiation used today is very low; and the positive saving of lives far outweighs the risk. Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic both agree with the Mercy Hospital system that mammograms … “can save your life.”

Breast cancer and abortion? Ah, now we see the political agenda emerging. Ms. Schreiner, there is no proven relationship between those unrelated events except in the minds of those who pursue the dictates of the far right. The American Cancer Society states: “induced abortions (are) not related to breast cancer.” The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists affirms: “Rigorous studies have failed to demonstrate a causal relationship between induced abortions and breast cancer risk.” Cleveland Clinic states the “70 percent of women with breast cancers have no known risk factors.” Yes a study out of Bangladesh suggested there was a relationship between abortions and breast cancer; I will leave it to the reader to determine the more plausible sources of information.

Speaking of sources, she suggests readers view a film by Burzynski. For those not familiar with this individual, he began a clinic in Houston in 1970 promoting the use of small chains of amino acids called “antineoplastins,” administration of which at his clinic can cost tens of thousands of dollars. In almost 40 years of “clinical” work, no randomized, controlled trials of the drug therapy have been published in a peer-reviewed journal (National Cancer Institute). The American Cancer Society found “no beneficial effects on cancer.” Mayo Clinic, in a detailed study, found no benefit and irreproducible results. The Memorial Sloan Kettering Institute states: “there is no clear evidence to support the anticancer effects of antineoplastin therapy … on humans.” Again, whom should we believe; scientists at the most prestigious foundations in the country (and no, Ms. Schreiner, they do not all have a personal agenda!) or one individual with suspect credentials who hasn’t publish any results in almost 40 years?

Another part of her letter intimated that scientists/doctors/researchers were trying not to find a cure for cancer because of collusion with the powerful pharmaceutical companies. Yes, these companies are suspect in some areas; it is nothing but unsubstantiated conspiracy theory to think potential cancer treatments would be withheld from the public. You demean generations of dedicated men and women who are doing their utmost to find causes, diagnostic tests, pharmaceuticals and better ways to educate the public to end the scourge of cancer. I think that within a few years, designer drugs specific for each patient’s DNA mutations will provide the final chapter in the history of this disease.

The final sentence in her letter was so very telling. “When someone (S.G. Komen) is in bed with Planned Parenthood, you know that is a lie, and a big one.” There you go, Ms. Schreiner – bringing up your own personal bogeyman a group that spends 35 percent of services (11,400,000 in 2009) on contraception, 35 percent on screening for sexually transmitted diseases, 15 percent (almost 2,000,000 services) on cancer screening (mostly cervical and breast), 10 percent on prenatal health and, oh yes, 3 percent on abortions. You should be ashamed for politically trying to deny low-income women the health services that they need.

Earlier today, I saw two female joggers run by my home wearing pink head bands, and I smiled, knowing that the message of cancer awareness was alive and well in Tiffin, Ohio.

Bob Murray,

professor emeritus of biology, Tiffin