Friday, 7 December 2012

Express article 'could potentially cause harm to people with cancer'

Today's Express asks:

Inspired by recent news events, the article by Jane Warren gets the view of an 'expert' on a variety of 'alternative cancer treatments'. The 'expert' in question is billed as:

Dr Alyssa Burns-Hill PhD, a hormone and holistic health specialist with clinics in Harley Street and Jersey.

It adds:

So just what are the alternatives that Dr Burns-Hill believes can assist in the treatment of cancer?

A quick look at the 'about' page of Burns-Hill's website reveals a telling phrase, printed in bold:

For absolute clarity – I am not a medical doctor.

The website also makes clear:

Dr Alyssa Burns-Hill PhD has provided this website for information purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for advice from your registered physician or healthcare professional.

Last month, a complaint about Burns-Hill and her website was upheld by the Advertising Standards Authority, who ruled:

We told DBH to ensure that she held adequate substantiation for her claims in future, and to ensure she stated that she was not a medically qualified doctor in a clear and prominent qualification positioned close to the first reference to the title Dr Alyssa Burns-Hill PhD.

Given the background of their 'expert', it is perhaps unsurprising that the Express' article has been criticised by both Sense About Science and Cancer Research UK. A response by Kat Arney for the latter said:

This piece contains factual and scientific inaccuracies, as well as misleading information that could potentially cause harm to people with cancer.

For example, the Express mentions the Gerson Treatment and their 'expert' says:

“I was on a 21st-century version of Gerson called Plaskett Therapy. It is a very hard regime to follow and is controversial because it is alternative, not complementary. Success is difficult to quantify as many people turn to Gerson as a last resort."

But Arney points out:

Although the article states that Gerson therapy is controversial, it fails to mention that there is absolutely no solid scientific evidence to show that Gerson therapy can treat cancer, and that it can be very harmful to a patient’s health. Coffee enemas have been linked to serious infections, dehydration, constipation, colitis (inflammation of the colon), and dangerous electrolyte imbalances or even death. The information on Gerson therapy in the article is misleading, inaccurate and potentially harmful for cancer patients.

The Express also discusses homeopathy:

THE THEORY: A natural system for the treatment of disease by highly dilute doses of substances. It works by treating like with like.

OUR EXPERT SAYS: “This is often disregarded because it works in a different way to conventional medicine. It looks past the symptoms to consider the whole person.”

Arney replies:

The reality is that there is no solid medical evidence to prove that homeopathy can treat cancer. 

Arney also tackles other 'treatments' the Express raises, including diet:

there is no good evidence to suggest that any particular foodstuff can really treat cancer.


The article claims that eating a lot of sugar is “feeding any cancer cells”. This is an unhelpful oversimplification of a highly complex area that researchers are only just starting to understand.

And stress:

The article claims that “stress is a factor in cancer” that has been “scientifically substantiated”. This is a bold overstatement of the current state of research in this area. Many people believe that stress can cause cancer, particularly breast cancer. But the evidence for this is lacking.

Cancer Research sent a letter to the Express challenging the article:

Dear Sir,
The Daily Express article “Do cancer alternatives really work?” (Friday December 7th) contains misleading information and several inaccuracies that could cause harm to cancer patients.

We understand that people want to try everything after a cancer diagnosis, but strongly urge anyone considering complementary or alternative therapy to talk to their medical team about their safety.  We go to a lot of trouble to make sure we find out what treatments really work though our research, and cancer patients deserve the best information we have, not dangerous speculation.

There is absolutely no solid evidence that Gerson therapy can treat cancer. In fact this treatment can cause very serious side effects.

Cancer patients searching for accurate, reliable information about alternative and complementary therapies can find it on our CancerHelp UK website or by calling our Cancer Information Nurses on 0808 800 4040 (9am-5pm, Monday to Friday).

Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK Chief Clinician.

The paper has refused to print it. Arney concludes:

In his recent report, Lord Leveson highlighted the harms to the public from inaccurate and misleading science and health reporting by the press.  We are disappointed that the Express has chosen to print this article about a serious health issue without checking the scientific validity of the claims within it. By failing to do this, they have done a disservice to their readers, cancer patients and their families.

UPDATE (10 Dec): Sense About Science has edited the Express article (pdf).


  1. My goodness, I had no idea newspapers could print that sort of thing. If anyone (especially the BBC) claimed that homoeopathy could be used as an alternative to medical science, the papers would come down on them like a ton of bricks. Great article.

  2. Exactly how will Leverson stop this sort of crap reporting I wonder?


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