Thursday 29 May 2014

The Case of Dr Henry Mannings

It was back in December 2012 that I first wrote about the case of Dr Henry Mannings, the founder of Star Throwers, a charity in Norfolk that helps late stage cancer patients with nowhere else to go. Let me state at the outset that I am a Trustee of Star Throwers and proud to be one. Henry Mannings treated my son George when we had no place else to go. In the many years of treatment that my poor son endured before his death, we met few doctors as dedicated, concerned and open minded as Henry Mannings. George was the first patient that Henry treated with Coley’s Toxins, but by then the disease was so advanced that nothing could stop it – but George, and the rest of the family, appreciated the care and advice from Henry, and the hope that the treatment gave us when there was no place else to turn. And, let me add, Henry made no promises, he did not give us false hope and everything he said or recommended he backed up with evidence and reasoning. In the years since George’s death I have come to know Henry Mannings well and I know that the trust he inspired in us he continues to inspire in the many patients who come to Star Throwers.

However, his popularity with his patients, and his open-minded approach to oncology, makes him unpopular with some of the powers that be. And so in late 2012 a complaint was made by a senior oncologist in Norwich to the General Medical Council. The complaint alleged that Dr Mannings was prescribing chemotherapy drugs in an unsafe manner that put patients at risk, with specific mention of two cases. In neither case was the complaint made by the patient or the patient’s family. In fact the complaint was made without first asking the people concerned whether they had any complaints to make against Dr Mannings.

Based on these complaints the GMC instituted proceedings against Dr Mannings, and initially took the step of taking away his power to prescribe treatment at Star Throwers. This meant that patients who were being actively treated had to stop treatment, even if these treatments were successfully keeping cancer at bay. In response there was an outpouring of support from patients and patient families, from other clinicians familiar with Dr Mannings and his work and from experts in the field who could see no wrong in the work that he was doing or the scientific rationale behind it. He wasn’t offering miracle cures or ripping patients off or acting in any way unethically. The restriction on prescribing was removed in January 2013 but in many senses the damage had been done - doubt had been cast on Dr Mannings competence and the work he did to fund himself while working for free at Star Throwers dried up. More than that, it put him under great personal strain and incredible levels of stress that no amount of public support from patients and friends could quite counteract.

Tuesday 6 May 2014

Organic Food and Cancer Risk

There is a theory popular in certain alternative and complementary medicine circles that cancer is caused by environmental toxins, radiation, microwaves, mobile phones and just about every modern convenience in the household. While there's little evidence for any of this, the idea that there are 'chemicals' lurking in the environment has become common-place, particularly when it comes to food. Hence one of the most common questions from newly diagnosed cancer patients: should I switch to an organic diet? There are enough people out there pushing the idea that 'organic' food is healthier than conventionally grown food, so it should be no surprise that people naturally feel that food grown 'without chemicals' will help them in the fight against cancer. After all conventional crops depend on 'chemicals' and organic food doesn't. And we all know that chemicals, in this case mainly pesticides, are bad for you. Therefore organic food should be healthier, and the strong growth in organic food sales in the last ten or fifteen years shows how popular opinion has accepted this assertion. 

However, the results of a new UK study that looked at cancer risk and the consumption of organic food seems to suggest that popular opinion is pretty much wrong in this case ( While organic food and alternative medicine advocates have pushed organics as a way of reducing cancer risk, the study shows that it makes little difference one way or another. The study in question appears in the British Journal of Cancer and is by Oxford University cancer epidemiologist Dr Kathryn Bradbury and co-workers. Part of the Million Women Study funded by Cancer Research UK and the Medical Research Council, this particular bit of research tracked 623 080 middle-aged British women for almost ten years and looked at their pattern of organic food consumption and the incidence of sixteen different cancer types, as well as overall cancer incidence.

Based on their reported eating habits the women were put into three groups: never, sometimes, or usually/always eating organic food. The headline result showed that eating organic was not associated with overall cancer incidence one way or another (in fact there was a tiny increased overall risk of about 3%, but it’s the sort of noisy result one can ignore). The results for the different types of cancer are mixed, with some showing increased or decreased risks, but no overall pattern or anything too dramatic. These results, in contrast to the myths of wholesome organic, have upset some people, especially the British Soil Association, the guardian of all things organic in the UK (including being the premier organic certification body in the country).