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Famous breach of Trust in Cancer

Tags: pseudoscience cancer breast cancer bone marrow

I am currently reading The Emperor of Maladies. This is a fascination book where Siddhartha Mukherjee not only educate its readers about cancer disease but also shares interesting tidbits. Werner Bezwoda was an infamous oncologist who fudged data about bone marrow transplant in women with metastatic breast cancer.

Before I understood anything, I have to understand what bone marrow was. I remembered vaguely from my science class in school but I guess I needed a revision.

What is a bone marrow? I googled it and following image popped out

bone marrow image

It's a spongy substance found inside bones. It generates stem cells which in turn produce blood cells like white blood cells. White blood cells? Aren't they something that fights pathogens? I found an interesting video of white blood cell chasing a pathogen

But why am I talking about bone marrow? I guess I was reading about chemotherapy which is just a fancy way of “poisoning” the body to kill cancerous cells. Of course side effects also include killing normal healthy cells.

There’s a limit on how much dose of “cytoxins” a body can withstand. High chemotherapy often severely damaged the bone marrow. So doctors began removing bone marrow & freezing it before commencing chemotherapy. Bone marrow can later be transplanted again which could replenish white blood cells. High-dose chemotherapy can also lead to congestive heart failure and irreversible heart damage, etc, yet people with advanced cancer cling on to any possible cure.

Werner Bezwoda was a famous oncologist who published randomized controlled trials of high-dose chemotherapy and autologous stem cell transplantation for patients with metastatic breast cancer. The results were remarkable enough to earn him a plenary session lecture at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. The treatment was highly profitable for hospitals who, by 1995, were billing the procedure at $80,000 to $100,000.

But one of the tenets of science involves reproducibility. Most of the trails in America could not produce similar results. Later audits by American physicians discovered significant failings in Bezwoda’s records.

Bezwoda had taken advantage of Black women who couldn’t read, many of whom had been treated at a Blacks-only hospital. "He was recruiting patients who did not know what to ask for," says Dr. Cynthia Farquhar, postgraduate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Auckland and co-author of False Hope: Bone Marrow Transplantation for Breast Cancer.Most of the women shouldn’t have been enrolled because their cancer wasn’t advanced enough to require aggressive treatment, or they had already had radiation therapy, which excluded them from the study. And even worse, no consent forms were found — meaning there was no evidence that the women agreed to be treated with highly toxic chemotherapy1.

How do we trust science?

I’ve met flat earthers in life who claim that there’s a global conspiracy to fooling public into believing earth is actually round. I’ve also met an anti-vaxxer who claimed vaccination can lead to autism and it interfered with his personal religious belief.

Anti-maskers in Idaho’s Boise burned face masks to protest against coronavirus restrictions imposed upon cities.

V. A. Shiva Ayyadurai is an Indian-American engineer, politician

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Science is not perfect. But people need to trust doctors or scientists. Scientists need to be honest about recommendations that are backed by Scientific consensus & not their personal opinion (unless they also explicity state it's their personal opinion). Rational wiki has a page on their website called Nobel Diseases. It contains outlandish claims made by Nobel laureates that are either pseudoscience or not backed by scientific consensus. Like Luc Montagnier, a famous virologist who believes in homeopathy, water memory, autism quackery, AIDS cured by nutrition and vaccine hysteria.

Data can be interpreted in different ways either prima facie, or using statistical analysis, by folks in right, center or left wing with their own biases. However it’s paramount that the integrity of data is never compromised. Any scientist who fudges with the data not only breaks trust of the public but is also a criminal.

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