Thursday, January 7, 2010

Pseudoscience: Opioids, Contraception, Abortion and Cancer.

It's a great day for ideologically motivated pseudoscience!

From BeliefNet, a new study that, against all odds, establishes a link between contraception, abortion and cancer.

And from the super GeriPal, a debunking look at the swelling but false meme that opioids like morphine cause cancer growth.

Why is it important to not leap to the conclusion that opioids cause cancer growth? Two recent examples come to mind: hormone replacement therapy for post-menopausal women and vitamin E. Early retrospective studies (in humans, not mice) seemed to demonstrate that hormone replacement therapy led to reduced mortality. Unfortunately, large prospective cohort studies showed the opposite to be true! When researchers went back to re-examine the earlier studies, they found those earlier studies failed to account for important baseline differences in women: those who were healthier were more likely to take hormone replacement therapy, and therefore had better health outcomes that were attributed to the drug. Similarly, there was a great deal of excitement about vitamin E, including bizillions of laboratory studies that showed plausible mechanisms by which vitamin E could reduce heart attacks (antioxidant properties, etc). Again, large studies showed the opposite: people who do not take vitamin E live longer and have fewer heart attacks than people who do take vitamin E. In both the case of hormone replacement therapy and vitamin E, patients were taking the drug and health care providers were recommending treatment based on early evidence. And people died.


As Christian Sinclair (of Pallimed) noticed, if you Google search "morphine cancer" the fourth hit is "Pain drug morphine may accelerate cancer growth | Reuters." Think of all of our patients and caregivers who, seeking information, are clicking on that link.
Let's set the record straight.

The world is full of suppositions and pseudoscience that is meant to support an ideology - the media plays sucker again and again. Got your own examples? Post them in comments!

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