Ronni Gordon is  a cancer survivor and long-time journalist who has written about her journey, about health and fitness, and about how she and others have prevailed in difficult situations. She brings to her writing a mix of personal experience with knowledge about the health-care system and how cancer patients can navigate it. A graduate of Vassar College with a master's degree in journalism from Boston University, she is a freelance writer who worked in daily newspapers for more than 30 years. She has been published in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Dana FarberCancer Institute magazine, and Cancer Today magazine. She lives in Western Massachusetts with her dog, Maddie, short for Madison (Avenue) in honor of her hometown, New York, and is mother of three grown children, Ben, Joe, and Katie

Ronni Gordon

Separating Fact From Fiction in Anti-Cancer Claims

Tuesday, 01 Oct 2013 11:36 AM

By Ronni Gordon

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Anti-cancer strategies come and go, making it difficult to sort out the helpful from the useless or even detrimental.
 
For example, it's hard to know what to make of the latest craze for e-cigs, or electronic cigarettes, plastic battery-powered, tobacco-free devices resembling traditional cigarettes that heat a liquid nicotine solution, creating vapor that users inhale. Users get nicotine without the chemicals, tar or odor of regular cigarettes.

Believers in "vaping" say it deters people from smoking cigarettes, plus, with many flavors available, they just plain like it. Critics say they just replace one unhealthy habit with another that might also end up being harmful, and that children could pick them up and then progress to smoking cigarettes because it looks cool.
 
Last week, 40 state attorneys general asked the federal government to start regulating e-cigarettes, which may get into kids' hands under current rules.

They sent a letter to the Food and Drug Administration urging the agency to regulate electronic cigarettes in the same way it regulates tobacco products. The health effects have not been adequately studied, according to the letter.
 
Sometimes it seems like conflicting arguments come out one after another.
 
For example, for years women who have had breast cancer or who are at risk of it were told to avoid alcohol consumption because of a presumed correlation with breast cancer risk.
 
But then in January 2012 a small study published in the Journal of Women's Health found that red and white wine might actually stave off breast cancer.
 
Here’s another: Super foods, such as blueberries, contain antioxidants, chemicals that block the activity of other chemicals known as free radicals, which can damage cells in a way that might lead to cancer. Eat 'em up, we've been advised.
 
But in January 2013, Nobel laureate Dr. James Watson, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, made news by publishing a paper in the journal Open Biology saying that antioxidant use is actually harmful because free radicals not only may help keep diseased cells under control but they also help make many cancer drugs effective.
 
Meanwhile, some smaller studies have shown that green tea correlates with a slightly lower risk of breast cancer, but larger studies did not find a link.
 
Then there are fad crazes such as the use of raspberry ketones sold as supplements.
 
Here are some tips for sorting through the barrage.
 
Look to see if there is more than one study on a claim. "When findings come out in the newspaper, it's often from a single study," said Karen Basen-Engquist, a professor in the Department of Behavioral Science at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. "You need to look at all the evidence."
 
The Susan G. Komen Foundation offers this tip for sorting through the headlines:
 
"The next time you hear someone promoting the breast cancer-fighting benefits of a food, pay attention to the details. Was the study done in people, or just with cells or animals? Was it a large study? Do the findings confirm those from previous studies?"
 
Your best resources are organizations that have looked at all the information, such as:
 

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