Somewhat Misleading Cancer Prevention Title with a Steve Jobs Kicker

It’s no surprise that pundits, advocates, and apologists for all the various groups that make cancer their raison d’etre have tied their own causes into the news story that was Steve Jobs’ death. It’s also not surprising that many media outlets would print misleading headlines and articles to bring in the eyeballs.

Steve Jobs

Take for instance:

Pancreatic Cancer Killed Steve Jobs, the Truth About How You Can Prevent It

From Newsmax.com, the headline purports to divulge the secret of preventing pancreatic cancer. They even get a quote from a doctor:

“It’s a dismal, deadly disease,” surgical oncologist Dr. Robert Wascher tells Newsmax Health. “But like other forms of cancer, up to 65 percent can be prevented by relatively modest diet and lifestyle changes,” says Wascher, author of “A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race.”

Unsurprisingly, he’s the only doctor being referenced. I had to look up his credentials as a surgical oncologist, which is fine, but why did I have to go look them up? It should have been in the article. Also, let’s take a look at his “prevention” tips.

Turmeric. Turmeric has a cancer-fighting component called curcumin. “Laboratory tests and some animal studies show it has potential activity against pancreatic cancer.”

Well, at least that’s straightforward. Finally, something concrete in this mushy fluff piece. Wait, what? There’s more?

But, he warns, “What works in a laboratory environment doesn’t necessarily work in humans.” Wascher himself takes 1,000 mg of turmeric twice a day. “I don’t know for sure that it will help me, but I’m pretty sure it won’t hurt.” There is no established dosage, but most experts recommend taking between 500 mg and 2,000 mg daily.

So, um, you don’t have any evidence as of yet that turmeric works on preventing cancer in humans under real world conditions. Now, it’s true that studies have been pretty positive when it comes to turmeric working in concert with gemcitabine therapy in mice and “In a phase II trial in pancreatic cancer patients, down-regulation of NF-kappa B and cyclooxygenase-2 were observed”, at least in a page provided by Memorial Sloan-Kettering (which comes with some big fat disclaimers), but that’s not really giving me the hard sell.

There’s nothing wrong with taking turmeric for the most part. It’s a tasty spice, it MAY prevent pancreatic cancer development, and it might have “improved cognitive performance in elderly Asians who consume turmeric in the form of curry powder” (someday I hope to be an elderly Asian). However, I have reservations about the Newsmax article relaying:

One simple preventative step to lower the risk of pancreatic cancer is to take the spice turmeric, which is a strong cancer fighter, says Wascher.

That’s a pretty blanket statement, and cancer is a rather wide spectrum of disease. Besides, again according to the Sloan-Kettering site:

Recent laboratory findings indicate that dietary turmeric may inhibit the anti-tumor action of chemotherapeutic agents such as cyclophosphamide in treating breast cancer. More research is necessary, but it is advisable for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy to limit intake of turmeric and turmeric-containing foods.

Turmeric is a tasty spice (for the right dishes of course) and should be consumed on the hope that it MIGHT help reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer, but it may inhibit chemotherapy that may be working to destroy tumors in other cancers. The previous sentence would make an ungainly headline, but it would be less misleading by providing a caveat.

As for the other tips: Metformin isn’t really helpful if you don’t already have diabetes, and improved diet, weight loss, and quitting smoking are all things you should be doing ANYWAY for better health.

Also, I suppose if you want to know more about Dr. Wascher’s book, it’s titled A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race … glaringly it omits our mouse brethren.

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