Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Don't always believe the headline or the bottom line

I was thrust into the world of "the media" when the Detroit Free Press wrote an article about my cancer recovery way back in 1997, an article that was well written overall but contained a deliberately constructed "headline" within the article that was a "hook" to create interest and controversy (i.e. readership) about the content and path of my recovery. (The internal headline was "No time for chemotherapy". Yes, I probably said that, as an off-hand comment, like who does???, but yes, I underwent both chemo and surgery. I did not 'cure' myself only with diet, etc.) 

Sigh……..welcome to the real world……...

Recently an article has been published in the New York Times (link below) that essentially says "diet doesn't matter" for cancer prevention. This article is now making the rounds within other newspapers and all over the internet. 

Sigh………don't believe everything you read, anywhere, not just the New York Times, not just "the internet". 

I have asked a colleague for permission to add her comments to my blog, for my readers to see a well-reasoned response to this article and the reactions you may be seeing or reading (thank you, Karen). Please also read the links she has included, both the original article and the response from The American Institute for Cancer Research, where I donate proceeds from my book.)



I want to give you a head's-up about a column appearing today in the New York Times Science section.

In giving a commentary on the recent Amer. Assoc. for Cancer Research conference, the article, "An Apple a Day, and Other Myths" provides a limited quote from a presentation there by Walter Willett (distinguished researcher from Harvard involved in the Nurses' Health Study and many others; and one of the panel of scientists on the panel responsible for the AICR Expert Report that is the source of the AICR Recommendations to Reduce Cancer Risk).

Headlines, as this article is shooting all over the media, are referring to diet and cancer as a "mess". You may be getting questions about it (or hearing from patients or colleagues repeating this article's findings as fact without asking you a question).

So you may want to read the NY Times column yourself:

I also strongly encourage you to read a post from AICR that attempts to put the article in perspective:

We all know the research on diet and cancer is becoming more and more complex -- but it's unfortunate if that gets misinterpreted as meaning that the two are unrelated, rather than what is actually happening, as we are finding that the complexity means that cancer is not all the same, people are not all the same (genetic differences may make some more vulnerable to certain aspects of diet than others), and foods are not all the same (different forms of fiber have different effects, carotenoids differ from each other, grains differ from each other, etc., etc.). The emphasis in recent years on eating pattern rather than specific foods or nutrients, and diet's interaction with physical activity and body composition, indeed make this complex. But that's very different than the message portrayed in the NY Times article.

I hope this is of help to you all in being ready to respond to your patients and colleagues.

Karen Collins, MS, RDN, CDN

Taking nutrition from daunting to doable SM 
Speaker, Writer, Consultant
Nutrition Advisor, American Institute for Cancer Research
Co-Director, Wellness and Cardiovascular Nutrition subunit, SCAN dietetic practice group


In addition, I would also add that most diet and cancer studies have many major short-comings, not the least of which but maybe one of the most important, is that most people are likely not eating enough fruits and vegetables to see potential benefits (i.e., even the "high" intakes in these studies are still low, which is why I have set my personal goal of eating 9+ servings/day, every day, every week, rain or shine, winter or summer, traveling or home, etc, etc).

Please don't fall for the conclusion in this article that diet does not matter, for either cancer prevention (or cancer survival). This article appears to be throwing the baby out with the bathwater, I can only guess for the sake of "readership" (i.e. advertising dollars). 

I once had an oncologist (not my own) ask me if I really thought all the work involved with my cancer recovery journey (as I describe in my book) was really worth it if I only increased my odds for survival by 2% (a number he pulled out of the air). I was standing in front of 600+ people as the invited keynote speaker at a huge cancer survivor day event when he asked me that question. 

I let the question sink in, for both me and the audience. I am serious when I say I could have heard a pin drop in that auditorium during that moment.

Here is how I responded. "Let's see. Let's play with those hypothetical numbers a bit. Only 2%……….let's say I increased my odds from 1% survival to 3% survival. Those are not great odds, either way, but one way to look at that change is it being a 200% increase. Another example, let's say I increased my odds of survival from 49% to 51%. Again, on the surface, the increase does not look like much, but now I have taken myself out of the minority and put myself into the majority odds for long-term survival, which is where I much prefer to be."

There was another full moment of silence in the room. I suppose people were digesting what I had just said or maybe they were waiting for either that oncologist to say something else or maybe for me to follow-up with additional thoughts. When neither of us spoke, the audience jumped to their feet and roared with applause. I was stunned and embarrassed by all the hooting and hollering and foot stamping. I guess what I said (totally unplanned) sank in and resonated with this group of survivors. 

Afterward, both cancer survivors and other health care professional came up to me to thank me for "standing up for patients". 

I guess what I am reacting to in this New York Times article is the negativity that is being projected on to people (both those concerned enough about their health to make changes and the health care professionals trying to guide them).

Believe me, I am not tossing my diet changes out the window, but I may stop reading the New York Times, let alone counting on it for "news". 

Ok - enough disgruntlement from me. Now let's all go out and enjoy spring! It's that time of year when we should all smell like soil at the end of a day, :) :) and oh yes, enjoy eating your vegetables knowing you are nourishing health in your body and soul, and hopefully also nourishing your local farmers. :) :)

Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row,

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

PS - the formatting may look weird, at least it does for me with a preview version. I don't know why (something to do with cut and paste I suppose) but I don't have time to sort this out. Apologies for the vagaries of blogging. :)

1 comment:

Rosie Schwartz said...

Great piece, Diana! People have no idea and you point out much needed information. BTW- I posted it on my Facebook page.