If you or someone you know has or has had cancer, you were likely forwarded a copy of the viral email that touted itself as a “Cancer Update from Johns Hopkins.” The copy I got was from my sister, an ovarian cancer survivor, who was thrilled that there was “finally news from the medical world that makes sense!”
Her email was quickly followed by one from my nephew, a colon cancer survivor, who “didn’t want to rain on her parade,” but stated that the email was a hoax (he’d also received it from his in-laws). He provided the link from Johns Hopkins “setting the record straight.”
I completely support Johns Hopkins taking the stand that this email should not be considered medically-supported information or advice. Its name was used falsely to engender credibility. They cannot endorse its contents.
But if you take a close look at both (the email is attached to this article as a .pdf file – at least the version I received), you might see that the information in it is not altogether contradictory to Johns Hopkins response. True, the style of the email is urgent and dramatic. Toward the end, it starts to sounds almost fanatical, which should be the red flag that it didn’t come from a reputable medical institution.
Nonetheless, there’s some valuable advice in this hoax email that’s worth paying attention to. And what’s interesting about Johns Hopkins' rebuttal is not so much what it says as what it doesn’t say. Let’s take a closer look.
Taking Care of Yourself
Cancer is hard to detect. The medical community does not yet have a single broad-spectrum diagnostic tool, but both the email and Johns Hopkins response confirm that, due to genetic, environmental and/or behavioral factors, we all carry atypical cells that possess the cancerous traits.
Genetics are tough to change, but good lifestyle choices can significantly reduce your risk. They also play a huge role in treatment and recovery. A body abused by poor lifestyle choices will always be at risk, even one that has been deemed “cancer-free” following treatment.
On the nutrition side of that equation, the email offers some very specific recommendations, based on the premise that cancers feed on certain foods. While the notion that not eating these foods you will starve the cancer cells and thus eliminate them has no scientific basis, the suggestion to remove or limit certain foods to reduce risk is rarely challenged in the literature.
Sugar substitutes like aspartame have been the subject of numerous studies which have linked it to increased cancer risk. Excess intake of animal proteins has been shown to create higher levels of acidity in the body, raising the inflammatory markers that are a precursor to chronic illness and cancers. A diet made of 80 percent fresh vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts and fruits does help offset that by balancing your body’s pH levels with alkaline foods.
Traditional Medicine May Cause Harm
The email makes some very strong claims on this front about the corrosive effects of chemotherapy and radiation, which Hopkins addresses by saying that these treatments kill cancer cells with remarkable (meaning not exact?) selectivity, noting that there are “temporary and reversible side effects.”
John Hopkins doesn’t specifically address the long-term effects of the toxic drugs used in these therapies, but there are drugs that can cause heart and liver damage. A good oncologist will assess the risks through testing and prescribing medicines that limit damage, but it doesn’t mean that long-term side-effects do not exist. It’s an area of ongoing research.
A Disease of the Mind and Body
A “proactive and positive spirit” are what the email encourages to be a cancer warrior. Even the American Cancer Society recognizes that a spiritual practice, while not scientifically supported as a cure, has numerous psychological benefits in the treatment of cancer.
Hopkins is quick to point out the lack of evidence that a person’s state of mind prevents or causes cancer, but even the National Cancer Institute has indicated that strong spiritual practices have been associated with “improved adjustment in individual diagnosed with cancer.” Hopkins offers a number of supportive services including chaplains and a meditation chapel, but I was hoping for a statement of greater awareness of spiritual benefit here, not a clinical dismissal.
I have my issues with both the hoax email and the John Hopkins response, but at the end of the day, if the hoax has encouraged people to explore the impact of lifestyle choices, medical choices and spiritual choices and found that enhancing these areas of their lives could directly enhance their lives, then the forced urgency and drama have had a positive impact. I don’t condone stealing the John Hopkins name to publicity’s sake, but I’m all for sounding a more robust alarm for better health choices that can reduce our disease risk.
Mary Porter is a nutrition counselor living in the Fort Hunt area. You can reach her through her website, www.betterplate.com