Whilst I was enjoying a spirited defence by Dr. Nancy Malik of homeopathy yesterday on Twitter (I don’t agree with her but she is allowed her say no matter how stupid it is) (you can view the posts by searching #ten23 or @DrNancyMalik, she is currently promoting homeopathic AIDS/HIV treatment) she linked to some cartoons that she thought were a) funny and b) so satirical that they would bring down all of established science. They weren’t. I wouldn’t have minded if they had at least been funny but here is a prime example,
Ho ho, see now we who work in Medicine (all shills of Big Pharma by the way) are actually trying to kill and even if we’re not trying to kill you we don’t give a fuck about you anyway. As an aside, I hate big pharma. They don’t give cheap medicines to countries in need, they medicalise sociological problems and they have been caught manipulating results. However, quite a lot of their products actually work and do save lives.
Back to my point. I found this cartoon quite offensive as it portrayed people who work in health care as heartless bastards, which is a little unfair. Maybe U.S. Doctors are in it for the money and do prescribe things because they get money from the patients health insurance (another good argument for socialised health care there, appropriate prescribing) but that doesn’t really happen here and I am certain that nurses aren’t in it for the money.
The cartoon lead me to this article on the same website about why you (woman obviously) shouldn’t get a mammogram. It’s delicate title is “Mammograms cause breast cancer”. Now I am not going to argue that radiation is good for you or that mammogram is perfect but I can assure you that it saves lives. Whilst, as we know, the plural of anecdote is not data, we are dealing with homeopaths here were anecdote is data and data that doesn’t agree with them is ignored (rather like Ann Coulter and transitional fossils. Robin Ince joke there.) Several friends of my mother have had their lives saved by mammogram and chemo and radiotherapies. Homeopathic proving.
What the article sets out to do is to scare woman into not getting an examination. For example “Since mammographic screening was introduced, the incidence of a form of breast cancer called ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) has increased by 328 percent. Two hundred percent of this increase is allegedly due to mammography.” Ok this may be true (they sight no reference for this number and it seems that most of the references throughout the article are to other articles on the site. Intellectually rigorous then) but 128% of the rise wasn’t caused by mammogram and they give no survival rates for this cancer and no rates of detection for this cancer by the test. If you’re interested 80% of this type of tumour is detected by mammogram alone as “very few cases of DCIS present as a palpable mass”.
My biggest problem with the article (apart from the fact that it is written by someone described as a Citizen Journalist. So, just some person then, not a specialist then. It is quite a serious subject after all.) is the complete lack of context in which the numbers are presented. From the article I have learnt that one examination gives you 1 rad of radiation. Well that’s helpful if you are trying to weigh up risk. Perhaps they could compare that to say, radiation exposure whilst on a trans-Atlantic flight or just from living in Cornwall. Or the amount Peter Parker received from that radioactive spider (it was a girl spider and had recently had a mammogram. True story, to quote Pat Robertson). If you believe the Daily Mail, which I know we all do, if lightening goes off near your plane the X-ray exposure will be 400 times that of a chest X-ray.
Percentage rises are quoted throughout with no context and, again, only referencing the site. This is a just unhelpful. I know they want to sell their product and promote their dangerous and unhelpful philosophy but this is so one sided as to be almost lying. Quote away with your statistics by all means but reference properly and give context. Oh and offer some alternatives. At they end they refer to some new technology that does sound good but is also being produced by the same people that bought you the mammogram, you know the sort of people describe in the cartoon that start me off.
If you are not aware of the campaign click here and have a read.