Another Suzanne Somers in the making
The pop babe, who was diagnosed with the life-threatening illness last month, has began seeing a bio-energy healer to help her cope with the course of radiotherapy she is about to begin.
During the sessions, the healer will try to beam positive energy in to Kylie's body with one hand and remove negative energy with the other.Ms. Minogue certainly has the right to choose any "therapy" she wishes, and it is to her credit that she has not abandoned conventional treatment in favor of this "bioenergy healing." Fortunately, I can't think of any way that this sort of thing is likely to harm her chances of a cure. Unfortunately, I can't think of any way it will help her chances either, other than serving as a very fancy (and probably very expensive) placebo. Indeed, even a 9-year-old-girl was able to show that these "energy healers" can't even detect the human "energy fields" they claim to be able to manipulate. She even managed to get her study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association! (Thanks to Skeptico and Nurse Kelly for the reference; a more detailed description is here and the article is here.) Of course, energy healing and therapeutic touch advocates jumped all over this study, claiming it was invalid because there was no eye contact or, even more amusing, because the experiment involved a "nonhealing" task and lacked the "intention of doing the greatest good for the person being treated." (Are they really trying to argue that a "healer's" ability to "detect" these human "energy fields" depends upon the intent of the healer to "do good"?) Worse, they even teach this stuff in nursing schools as a serious therapy, and, as Kelly points out, no mention of the JAMA study is made, even in newer textbooks. Fortunately, not all nurses buy into this. It may well be true that a good "therapeutic touch" or a good massage can relieve tension and make a patient feel better, but the salutory effect of such human contact almost certainly has nothing to do with "energy fields" or "redirecting these energies to bring the person back into energy balance," nor do you have to worry about using it on people "sensitive to energy repatterning" (mainly because there is no "energy repatterning"). I also can't help but wonder how these "healers" determined what points on the body are the proper targets of "therapeutic touch." Somehow I doubt there was any science involved.
In a bid to beat the illness, the 'Slow' singer has also turned to colour therapy, insisting a room at the private hospital where she received her lumpectomy be painted pink in a bid to assist her recovery.
It is believed Kylie, 37, turned to alternative therapies after speaking with fellow breast cancer sufferer Olivia Newton-John who used Buddhist chanting to overcome the disease.
But I digress, as I am wont to do sometimes and promised to try to stop doing.
Regardless of the specific "alternative medicine" therapeutic modality chosen, I dealt with the issue of people choosing alternative medicine for breast cancer treatment in detail veryearly on in this weblog's history; specifically, how patients who choose alternative therapy after having had conventional therapy will often become "testimonials" for that therapy and will attribute their good outcome more to the "alternative" therapy than the conventional therapy they had already undergone. (The converse is also true; they tend not to blame these alternative therapies when they relapse.) Unfortunately, celebrities seem particularly prone to this phenomenon. For example, Suzanne Somers decided to opt for injections of the mistletoe extract Iscador rather than chemotherapy after her surgery and later had glowing things to say about it. Olivia Newton-John turned Kylie on to therapeutic touch. Both have become a "testimonial" for alternative medicine, and it looks as though Kylie Minogue may be heading down that path.
What one needs to understand in evaluating these "alternative therapies" is that surgery alone or surgery plus radiation therapy cures most early stage breast cancers. The chemotherapy and/or hormonal therapy can reduce the rate of recurrence signficantly, but the bulk of the "cure" comes from the local therapy. In effect, chemotherapy is just "icing on the cake." What's going to "cure" Ms. Minogue will not be "energy healing," "color therapy," or Buddhist chanting, but rather the scientifically-proven (and much less glamorous) treatments of surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and possibly hormonal therapy, just as surgery cured Suzanne Somers. However, like many cancer patients who supplement their therapy with such means, it is possible (even likely) that, once her therapy is complete, assuming she does well she will attribute her cure to the "alternative" therapy more than than the conventional therapy that preceded and accompanied it. She will become a "testimonial" for these therapies.
Ah, you say, Kylie Minogue is continuing to pursue standard therapy; so maybe she is just using these therapies to help her deal with the potential side effects of radiation therapy, such as fatigue and skin rashes or perhaps she'll use it later to help with chemotherapy side effects. Possibly. The article does make it sound as though that is what she is using these unconventional methods for. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that "energy healing" does anything whatsoever to help these symptoms. Personally, I'd like to know how any "healer" can "beam positive energy" into Kylie (or anyone) with one hand and "remove negative energy" with the other. What is the frequency of this "energy"? How can we detect or measure it? How does the healer identify what "energy" is "positive" and what energy is "negative," much less control such energy flows? It's all religious or New Age hokum, nothing more than a very expensive and showy placebo.
What bothers me is not so much that a celebrity has chosen this sort of therapy. It's more the way the press tends to give credulous and positive coverage to such unproven and questionable therapies or, at the very least, to "balance" the skeptics with the testimonials of the advocates. Even in the CNN article describing the study debunking therapeutic touch, a note of credulity slipped in; the article recounted glowing testimonials of patients who had undergone therapeutic touch and even wrote:
Advocates are blasting the young science student's research, and even skeptics concede many patients benefit from the therapy.Which skeptics concede this? They don't name or quote these skeptics who "concede" this. Inquiring minds want to know who these "skeptics" are!
In any case, Anne got it right when she pointed out:
In a few year uncritical reporters will be talking of Kylie (or Olivia Newton John) and how she used "bio-energy healing" to overcome her diseaseIndeed they will, the same way they talk of Suzanne Somers as having used mistletoe extract to overcome her disease, even though it was her surgery that cured her. Actually, if you look at the original storyAnne cites, it looks as though credulous reporters have already begun to do just that. Notice the utter lack of questioning whether such methods have any efficacy. The writer seems to assume that these methods have value because the celebrity has chosen them. I usually have no objection to patients using such therapies in addition to the proven, as long as I know what they are so that I can know if they might interfere with her standard treatment. (For example, some vitamins will interfere with clotting at high doses, and we surgeons don't like anything to interfere with clotting.) Unfortunately, the "testimonials" that come out of such use often make it sound as though the alternative, rather than the standard, therapy is responsible for the patient's survival. Even if Kylie herself does not give undue credit to this therapy for her cure, you can bet the press will do glowing puff pieces on her and how she used "unconventional" means to "beat" breast cancer.