Annoying cancer myths – more zombie memes that can’t be stopped

Anyone who follows the cantankerous feathered dinosaur knows that we tend to focus on vaccines, where the anti-vaccine religion focuses on tropes, pseudoscience, misinformation, and outright lies. Cancer myths seem to steal from the anti-vaccine playbook by pushing similar tropes, pseudoscience, misinformation, and lies.

I keep responding to these cancer myths all across the internet, so I thought that it might be useful to list out my favorite ones. No, it would take 50,000 words to debunk all of these cancer myths. For example, the Burzynski Clinic quackery is best handled by a real cancer specialist, David Gorski, MD, who has written well over 100 articles critiquing the Burzynski pseudoscience. So I’m going to stick with my personal favorites.

So, let’s take a look at these cancer myths, and I’ll do my best to debunk them. Continue reading “Annoying cancer myths – more zombie memes that can’t be stopped”

New hexavalent vaccine protects children against 6 diseases

hexavalent vaccine

On 26 December 2018, Sanofi and Merck jointly announced (pdf) FDA approval for a new hexavalent vaccine called Vaxelis. The new vaccine was developed to vaccinate children aged 6 weeks to 4 years old to protect them against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), polio, hepatitis B, and Haemophilus influenzae type B (also known as Hib). Sanofi and Merck stated that the companies are setting up production, and the vaccine should be available in the USA by 2020.

This new (for the USA) hexavalent vaccine is intended for intramuscular injection as a 3-dose series given at 2, 4, and 6 months of age. However, the initial dose may be given to infants as early as 6 weeks. The vaccine may be used to complete the hepatitis B immunization series. However, one additional dose of a pertussis-containing vaccine must be added to the 3-dose hexavalent vaccine schedule to complete the immunization against pertussis.

This vaccine will reduce the number of separate vaccinations from at least 4 down to 1. Reducing the number of times an infant needs to receive a shot is a benefit to the child, the parents, and the healthcare workers who perform the vaccinations.

Sanofi, Merck, and GSK have produced various formulations of this hexavalent vaccine outside of the USA since 2000. Merck and Sanofi submitted the application for this vaccine to the FDA in 2014 after completion of phase III clinical trials, which included over 1400 infants. The clinical trial showed that the new vaccine was equivalent, in terms of safety and effectiveness, to the older series of individual vaccines.

As discussed previously, spurious claims that hexavalent vaccines lack antigens and other nonsense have been debunked.

I am not sure why this vaccine took nearly two decades to reach the US market, but I’m sure someone in the anti-vaccine religion will invent some ridiculous conspiracy theory to say why. Nevertheless, this hexavalent vaccine is a very important addition to the list of vaccines available in the USA.

In spite of the FDA approval, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will need to review all of the data again before making a recommendation to change the US vaccination schedule. That will probably happen during the next couple of years.

This new hexavalent vaccine is a great benefit to preventing diseases that harm our children. I’m glad it’s coming to the USA.

Citations

Cancer mortality rates – mostly great news in war on cancer

cancer-mortality-rates

Despite the cancer tropes that seem to afflict Facebook and Twitter these days, which includes the laughable “Big Pharma is hiding a secret cancer cure” myth, recently published evidence shows that cancer mortality rates in the USA are dropping. This is great news if you’re wondering if cancer is an end-of-life diagnosis – science-based medicine is attacking and beating cancer with numerous strategies for each cancer. And yes, instead of hiding cancer cures, Big Pharma is providing a lot of the successful medications in treating the disease.

The report, published in the journal Cancer by researchers at the American Cancer Society, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Cancer Institute, and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries, provides us with the mostly good news. Cancer mortality rates, which describes the number of cancer deaths per 100,000 people per year, have dropped significantly in the USA. This drop includes most of the common cancers, such as lung, colorectal, breast, and prostate.

Unfortunately, the news isn’t all good – some cancer mortality rates have increased, and I will try to explain why. Let’s take a look at cancer and this new paper. Continue reading “Cancer mortality rates – mostly great news in war on cancer”

How to prevent cancer in 12 easy steps – vaccines are critically important

how to prevent cancer

I have railed against pseudoscientific charlatans who claim that they have the easy way to prevent or cure cancer. Generally, these snake oil salesmen try to convince you that they have some miraculous food, supplement, spiritual energy, and on and on, that can either kill cancer in its tracks or keep them from even growing in your body. Of course, none of their claims are actually supported by robust science. On the other hand, real science has 12 evidence-based methods to actually prevent cancer.

But what about those memes that say that supplements prevent cancer? Nope, they don’t. And that’s been shown in study after study after study after study (yeah, I could go on for awhile).

What about avoiding GMO foods because they cause cancer? Again, studies show that GMO foods have no effect on cancers. Oh, one more thing – bananas don’t have tumor necrosis factor, and the yellow fruit can’t prevent or cure cancer (but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t delicious).

Despite the absolute lack of evidence that supplements, kale, bananas, or drinking the pure waters of a glacial fed stream (which may not be an option with climate change), there are only a few things that can be done to manage your overall risk of cancer.

How to prevent cancer has been codified by the World Health Organization’s  (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) into 12 steps (no, not that debunked one) that are called the European Code Against Cancer.

Let’s look at cancer and how to prevent cancer.

Continue reading “How to prevent cancer in 12 easy steps – vaccines are critically important”

Robert Redfield named CDC director – what does this mean for vaccines?

robert redfield

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is America’s national public health institute – it is one of the most respected scientific institutions in the world. And the CDC Director, a presidentially appointed position, usually sets policy for public health in the USA, while they have considerable influence over public health worldwide. After the resignation of Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald in January 2018, President Donald Trump appointed Dr. Robert Redfield as the new CDC Director.

Despite the fantasies of the anti-vaccine religion and other science deniers, the CDC is staffed by highly educated and trained scientists, public health experts, physicians, and nurses, many of them are officers in the United States Public Health Service. These people are dedicated to the public health of Americans and often spend their lives keep all of us safe from harm from diseases.

The CDC’s main goal is to protect public health and safety through the prevention of disease, injury, and disability not only in the USA but also internationally. The CDC is an independent Federal agency whose dedicated staff stand at the front lines of infectious diseases throughout the world. The agency also focuses on non-infectious diseases, such as diabetes and obesity. Finally, they provide educational activities designed to improve health.

Of course, the CDC matters to me because they are the primary source of information about vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases in the USA and the world. Though the CDC does not control vaccinations, they only set recommendations that states and certain parts of the Federal government (like the military and foreign service officers) generally follow. The CDC follows logical and scientific procedures to make these recommendations.

And now we have a new CDC Director, Dr. Robert Redfield, who at first blush appears to be a reasonable choice for the position. However, I am a scientific skeptic, so I never stop at the first blush. Continue reading “Robert Redfield named CDC director – what does this mean for vaccines?”

Hepatitis B vaccine – the other cancer prevention vaccine

hepatitis b vaccine

Anyone who follows or trolls my blog knows one thing – I am a passionate supporter of the HPV anti-cancer vaccine, known as Gardasil. But I didn’t want to ignore the hepatitis B vaccine, which is the “other” anti-cancer vaccine.

Recently, the CDC recommended a new hepatitis B vaccine for adults, and that prompted me to do something I haven’t really done – talk about hepatitis B, liver cancer, and the hepatitis B vaccine. In some respects, hepatitis B is just as an important issue as HPV with respect to preventing cancer.

Remember, despite what you read on pseudoscience website or from anecdotes on the internet, there are really only a few ways to prevent cancer. Don’t smoke. Don’t drink alcohol. Stay out of the sun. Keep a very healthy (read low) weight. And get your HPV and hepatitis B vaccines.

Yes, getting these vaccines will be more useful to avoiding cancer than drinking delicious bananaalmond milk-blueberry smoothies. I know, that smoothie probably is more appetizing than getting poked by a sharp needle. It is possible that the smoothie could be part of a healthy diet which could contribute to maintaining a healthy weight. But it won’t directly prevent cancer like the two vaccines.

As I’ve mentioned many times, I think that Gardasil is one of the most hated vaccines that the CDC recommends. But to be honest, if you watch the anti-vaccine religion, you would know that the hepatitis B vaccine is way up there on the list of hatred.

So, let’s take a look at hepatitis B, liver cancer, and the vaccine. Continue reading “Hepatitis B vaccine – the other cancer prevention vaccine”

Vaccine Court – causation and administrative discretion

vaccine court

A recent case provides insight into how the decisions of the Special Master in the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program – also known as the Vaccine Court – are reviewed by the appeals system. There are two issues I hope readers can take from this story:

  1. There is an elaborate system for appealing NVICP decisions. Next time someone tries to claim there is no appeal, or that the petitioners are not given a hearing, remind them they’re very wrong.
  2. The legal standard used to assess the Special Master’s findings of facts – what it is and how it works. What we see is that both the judge in the US Court of Federal Claims and the Circuit Court gave the Special Master’s decision pretty close scrutiny. 

Continue reading “Vaccine Court – causation and administrative discretion”

Hepatitis B vaccine – new recommendations for vaccinating infants

hepatitis b vaccine

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is now recommending that infants receive their first dose of the hepatitis B vaccine within 24 hours of birth. This recommendation is in line with the guidance of the CDC.

Hepatitis B is a serious disease that is easily preventible with the vaccine. Yet, the hepatitis B vaccine is one of the most vilified of the vaccines by the anti-vaccine crowd.

This article will take a look at hepatitis B, the vaccine, and some of the nonsensical claims of the anti-vaccine world. Continue reading “Hepatitis B vaccine – new recommendations for vaccinating infants”

European court vaccine ruling – the vaccine deniers think they won

European court vaccine ruling

On 21 June 2017, the European Court of Justice ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in a case that examined whether Sanofi-Pasteur’s hepatitis B vaccine caused multiple sclerosis (MS) in a patient. Although the ruling might, on the surface, be considered bad for vaccines, we need to look more carefully at that European court vaccine ruling.

There are several questions that we need to answer. First, what did the court actually rule? What can courts say about science? And, is there any evidence that the hepatitis B vaccine causes multiple sclerosis? Continue reading “European court vaccine ruling – the vaccine deniers think they won”

European court vaccine decision – a legal analysis

European court vaccine decision

On June 21, 2017 the European Court of Justice (ECJ) decided a product liability case (N.W. et al v. Sanofi Pasteur MSD SNC, C-621/15) described by news articles as allowing plaintiffs to be compensated for alleged vaccine harms, even when there is no scientific evidence of a causal connection (in the most extreme versions, “with no proof”). This description is incorrect. More nuanced analyses were provided by Orac and Steve Novella, but I think they, too, did not exactly capture what the decision does. This post explains the European court vaccine decision.

Three take-home points are important:

  1. If there is no scientific consensus as to whether a vaccine causes a particular kind of injury, member state courts can allow plaintiffs to use circumstantial evidence to prove a vaccine injured them. Defendants, of course, can use scientific evidence to counter the plaintiff’s circumstantial evidence. This decision does not mean that science doesn’t matter in the courts or that anti vaccine activists can win even when the science is against them.
  2. Member courts cannot treat circumstantial evidence as creating a presumption of causation. The plaintiff bears the burden of proving the vaccine cause the injury, and each case must be examined on its facts.  For example, a temporal connection alone does not automatically mean there’s causation.
  3. In a referral like this, the ECJ does not reexamine the facts. It is answering the specific questions of law, and basing its decision on the description of the facts sent up from below. The ECJ was acting on a mistaken premise that the science, in this case, was unclear. That premise came from the lower courts, and the ECJ did not err in following it: it did not reexamine the facts, and did not decide the case in front of it, it only addressed a specific legal question. In the lower courts that now will be expected to rule according to the ECJ’s decision, Sanofi Pasteur – the defendant – should provide the scientific evidence, and we can hope the court, as did the Court of Appeals who ruled on the case last, will follow it. It’s unclear how the case will end.

This is a complex decision. To explain it, I will start with some background on product liability law and European Union law with respect to the European court vaccine decision. Then I will address this case, and then the ruling itself. If you are short of time you can skip the background and go directly to the case, but I think those who want to really understand this will benefit from it. Continue reading “European court vaccine decision – a legal analysis”