Penny Brohn Cancer Care: ‘Evidence’ … No I don’t think so !

Posted on September 27, 2009

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last week, during an idle moment of googling I stumbled upon the Penny Brohn Cancer Care website.

Their stated aim is to offer “specialist support including complementary therapies, advice & counselling for people living with cancer & their supporters“.  Their claims focus on the use of complementary therapies to help manage the symptoms and side effects of cancer and conventional cancer treatments, but not as a cure for the cancer itself !

The complementary support offered is  through the ‘Bristol Approach’ and seems to be a combination of counselling, relaxation techniques and complementary therapies.  I’ve no problem with offering people support during what is undoubtedly a very upsetting and emotional time for patient, family & friends.   There are areas of the Bristol Approach that make perfect sense to me.   As long as the advice given is sensible, I have no doubt that patients will benefit from areas such as counselling, nutritional advice and also wouldn’t question the use of excercise, relaxation or even meditation as beneficial to the patient.

At first glance at the individual elements of the Bristol Approach it seems to be focused more around the counselling & relaxation type of treatments ! http://www.pennybrohncancercare.org/page15.asp

That said I soon found their ‘Information and Research‘ page, where the list of therapies they support is a little different and they offer a list of ‘Evidence Based’ information sheets on range of complementary therapies that they support: ( ‘Evidence’ has been supplied for those in bold )

* Acupuncture
* Aromatherapy
* Art therapy
* Healing
* Homeopathy
* Imagery
* Massage
* Meditation and mindfulness
* Music therapy
* Reflexology
* Relaxation
* Shiatsu

I should note that throughout the website and their information leaflets they state the therapies should be used alongside any medical treatments already being administered, rather than as an alternative form of treatment.  However there are places where they seem to walk a very thin line between not curing cancer and curing symptoms / side effects of cancer.

Well I could hardly pass up the chance of reading ‘evidence based’ articles on such subjects, so I downloaded a few  ………. Oh dear !

The information sheets all contained a list of references used along with an offer to provide a full list of research literature used in their production.  Out of curiosity I asked them to provide details of the literature used to produce their ‘evidence based’ documents for Homeopathy, Aromatherapy & Reflexology.  I should really have included information on ‘healing’ in the list.

A couple of days ago I received an email supplying the list of research evidence used.

The purpose of this post is not to dissect or analyse each claim on each sheet, but simply to make the claims for evidence available to others.  After all, evidence for something with the potential to assist in cancer care should reach as wide an audience as possible.

So have they provided evidence to support their claims …… I’ll let you decide !

Their Homeopathy information can be found here: http://www.pennybrohncancercare.org/upload/docs/932/homeopathy.pdf

Just a taster from their  Homeopathy PDF:

It contains the usual homeopathy nonsense statements.  It stops short of a direct claim to cure cancer, but will claim to manage and treat the side effects of cancer!

What are the providers’ claims? Homeopathy does not claim to be a cure for cancer, but offers a gentle way of encouraging the body’s own ability to heal. It can be used for the side effects of cancer and its treatments.

So not a cure …. but claims about ‘healing‘  !

One particularly annoying statement tries to align homeopaths with medical professionals !

Homeopaths who are also healthcare professionals such as doctors, nurses, dentists and pharmacists, are represented by The Faculty of Homeopathy.

However that isn’t presenting their evidence, so here is their list of evidence to support Homeopathic claims: The evidence is in MS Word .doc format – (all have been virus checked)

Their list of evidence to support Homeopathy can be found here:  Homeopathy ref list

You’ll find references to works by Edzard Ernst and also articles in Cochrane database of systematic reviews listed on the info sheet itself.

I’ve not looked for or managed to find all the references, but having looked at a few of them it comes as no great surprise that many are from various homeopathic organisations rather than from independent reviews whilst others are ‘cherry picked’ comments from various sources.   Their other info sheets follow a similar format:

Their Aromatherapy information can be found here: http://www.pennybrohncancercare.org/upload/docs/932/aromatherapy.pdf

Their list of evidence to support Aromatherapy can be found here:   Aromatherapy ref list

Their Reflexology information can be found here: http://www.pennybrohncancercare.org/upload/docs/932/reflexology.pdf

Their list of evidence to support Reflexology can be found here:  Reflexology ref list


So the Bristol Approach offered by Penny Brohn Cancer Care may provide benefit to those dealing with cancer, but it is most likely to be from the counselling support rather than nonsense like homeopathy.  Their advice regarding complementary therapies falls a long, long way short of being Evidence Based !

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