I read with interest Dr Preshaw’s letter on the InspireHealth breakthrough in breast cancer survival [(Another) modest proposal BCMJ 2011;53:455].
I support his admonition to publish quickly so that our patients, friends, and family members with breast cancer can receive the benefits.
A word of caution, however, delivered by the philosopher George Santayana, whose aphorism “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” might be instructive in this context.
In the late 1980s the NHS funded a trial on complementary therapy delivered by the Bristol Cancer Help Centre. This trial was to be the evidence to publicly fund a network of complementary therapy centres across the UK.
The trial results were unexpected. Those in the complementary therapy group actually did worse than controls. The penny-pinching NHS ungraciously withdrew public funding.
The trial did not deal with any benefits on the quality of life for trial participants (there was, however, a suggestion of a deleterious effect on quality of life with the strict regime allowing focus only on cancer and survival).
It is both exciting and somewhat puzzling to read that BC research is showing a positive benefit on mortality in breast cancer sufferers. I too look forward to the published results.
In case these are not quite as expected, I hope the government will be as cautious with taxpayers’ dollars as the NHS eventually was. However, I do hope we continue to support the holistic treatment of all cancer patients, including complementary therapies where a benefit on the quality of life—if not the length of life—can be shown.
—Ralph Jones, MD
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