A Cure for Cancer?

The website of the British Association of Homeopathic Veterinary Surgeons (BAHVS) features a case report in its ‘successful cases’ section, concerning a dog named Bedford (BAHVS, 2012). Bedford was diagnosed with a particularly nasty manifestation of a type of cancer, the squamous cell carcinoma, which appeared as a sizeable mass on top of his head, causing considerable pain and facial deformity.

The story continues, explaining Bedford’s owner, feeling conventional medicine had gone far enough, went on to seek homeopathic help, which was duly given, and to which he reportedly responded, eventually returning to his old self and able to enjoy life again, with no more problems.

From the photographs, it is clear the mass was initially large and painful, yet, after treatment, although the second photograph provided is from a slightly different angle, Bedford appears almost back to normal – the distortion of his brow and eyes seems to have gone and there is a keen look in his eyes.

Taken at face value (although the word ‘cure’, while present in the web address, is conspicuously absent from the account) this ‘successful case’ appears to support the position homeopathy can have profound, positive effects on cancer.

And what could be simpler? Dog gets cancer, dog is given homeopathy, dog recovers. Surely this must be convincing proof of the power of homeopathy?

I was curious to say the least when I first read Bedford’s story. My first thought, given what is known about homeopathy, was this story, as it stood, was unlikely to be true. Cancer Research UK, for instance, reports ‘there is no scientific or medical evidence [homeopathy] can prevent cancer or work as a cancer treatment’ (Cancer Research UK, 2015). Rather than dismiss it out of hand however, I wrote to the BAHVS and they were kind enough to send me Bedford’s clinical history.

On reading the notes, I discovered there was a significant gap in the account. It transpires, at the same time Bedford was receiving homeopathic treatment he was also being treated with robenacoxib, a drug of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) group.

This class of drugs is well researched and is widely known to have anti-cancer properties, particularly in cases of squamous cell carcinoma (Hilovska et al, 2015). Yet, for whatever reason, the BAHVS had not seen fit to point out such a drug was being given. Other science-based medications – ‘strong opiates’ for instance – are referred to, yet the very one that might have had a real bearing on the case was not even mentioned (although I notice, on the current manifestation of the page, the acronym ‘NSAID’ has indeed appeared, albeit with no explanation as to its significance).

Assuming this might have been an inadvertent omission, I wrote back to BAHVS to explain the situation and suggest, in the interests of full disclosure, they might like to add a paragraph or two to the account describing the potential role of robenacoxib in this case. That way, readers would be able to make a properly balanced judgement about the case, since anyone reading it as it stood could be forgiven for incorrectly assuming the changes in Bedford’s cancer were solely the result of homeopathic treatment.

To my great disappointment, however, the BAHVS declined to make any change to the account, informing me in its reply ‘it is what it is’.

It is clear that ‘what it is’ is simply another example of the tendency of homeopaths to cherry-pick evidence to suit their preconceptions, even, as in this case, when it has been pointed out that by doing so they are misleading the public.

It has to be asked, if homeopathic practitioners are so confident about their chosen modality – despite the wealth of scientific literature which finds it is no more effective than placebo – what is it they have to fear about presenting a full and honest account of this case rather than the one that currently still stands?

References:

British Association of Homeopathic Veterinary Surgeons (BAHVS) (2012) Resolved Cancer Case 2 [Online]. Available at http://www.bahvs.com/cured-cancer-case-2/ (Accessed 24 May 2017).

Cancer Research UK (2015) Homeopathy [Online]. Available at http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/cancer-in-general/treatment/complementary-alternative-therapies/individual-therapies/homeopathy (Accessed 24 May 2017).

Hilovska, L., Jendzelovsky, R. and Fedorocko P. (2015) ‘Potency of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs in chemotherapy’, Molecular and Clinical Oncology, vol. 3, no. 1, pp. 3–12, [Online]. Available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4251142 (Accessed 24 May 2017).

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