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If only this were an April Fool’s hoax…

April 1, 2009

I get a lot of PR-junk email in my job, and most of it can be clicked into the trash after reading the first sentence. Technically speaking, the email that has inspired today’s post could have followed the others into the deleted items folder too, but it made me so angry that I felt the need to vent a little mental steam.

The emailer is a regular sender of CAM bumpf – which I send on in turn to Ben Goldacre to darken his day too. Today Chris Woollams has said that women who think their daughters should be vaccinated against cervical cancer should be ashamed of themselves.

Chris describes himself as a man on a mission – not surprising since his daughter was diagnosed at 22 with a brain tumour. He wants to explore every avenue to beat cancer – again you can’t deny him that – and it doesn’t seem unreasonable to suggest that a well-balanced diet gives your body a better chance of fighting the disease than one fed on nutritionally poor foods.

I am less convinced by the claim on his CancerActive website that some foods are better than drugs at treating cancer.

I am well aware that I’m not a doctor, let alone a dietician or oncologist, but it all leaves me feeling uneasy. I worry that very sick people in desperate need of hope will think that eating a Rainbow diet will cure their cancer. The Bad Science mantra comes back to me once more – it’s probably a bit more complicated than that.

Still, compared with the notion that you shouldn’t vaccinate against cervical cancer…

I appreciate it doesn’t guarantee you won’t get cervical cancer, but speaking as someone who had to suffer (and I do mean suffer) a wire loop excision a few months after my daughter was born, and who has to undergo the regular discomfort of cervical smear tests, I’d jump in the TARDIS tomorrow with a vial of vaccine and head back to a date when I could vaccinate my younger self.

Much may happen before my daughter is old enough for the vaccine, but as things stand I will certainly encourage her to have the jab. The hope is that the vaccine will prevent 70 per cent of cancers of the cervix. It won’t end the need for cervical screening of course, but it aims to stop 7 out of ten cervical cancer cases. Can anyone explain to me how this is a bad thing?

NB – I should add that most of the sex I’ve had in my life was safe, condomed sex. Only two men have I trusted sufficiently to sleep with without latex and I’m pretty confident that neither of them cheated on me (my husband has an allotment instead of a mistress as far as I can tell). So one – or perhaps both – of them picked up the human papilloma virus (HPV) earlier in life and unwittingly started the chain of events that led to the excrutiating wire loop excision (I’m not kidding when I say it hurt more than childbirth).

I’d suggest making sure female readers are up to date with their cervical smears, but if Jade Goody’s story hasn’t already encouraged you to do so, I fail to see how I can move you. But, having made that appointment, do keep it won’t you?

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