24 January 2005
BBC News Website
BBC Television Centre
Michelle Roberts of your organization telephoned me and asked for an interview that was to be the basis of a story. It ran this weekend as
I have several comments I would like forwarded to her and her editors. I apologize in advance for the length of this letter, but there are so many issues to raise with regard to this story that I must touch on a significant subset of them.
The first issue is one of simple courtesy. She said she would email me the URL of the story when it ran. She has not followed through with her simple promise, hence I need to communicate through this channel rather than with her directly.
However, more substantive is the tone and nature of the story. I expected the vaunted BBC to emulate the journalistic qualities of the London Times or the New York Times, organizations expected to get the facts right and treat serious stories with the depth and integrity they merit. Instead I found a tabloid approach, a "look at the wacky American" leer and snicker. A friend has characterized the story as mean spirited, and that certainly rings true for me.
I gave Michelle my web site for greater background than I could provide her in the half hour or so conversation we had --
She wrote: "Howard Cohen hopes it will boost his immune system and help him fight off his prostate cancer." This is neither what I told her nor what I wrote. I drink the milk for the anti-cancer chemicals in it, known as HAMLET (see below). And my prostate cancer, if present, is still undetectable, and continues to be undetectable for the past two and one half years. This is a fact, not a "hope".
She wrote: "The team at Lund University in Sweden found a compound called alpha-lactalbumin-oleic acid killed brain tumour cells in the test tube." The original work (see the references in my web paper, noted above) found that adding human mother's milk to cell cultures of all available strains of cancer (over 40) invariably led the cancer cells to die through a process known as apoptosis or programmed cell death. Non-tumor cells were unaffected. The compound that was discovered to be primarily effective was called HAMLET (Human Alpha- lactalbumin Made Lethal to Tumor cells), not alpha-lactalbumin-oleic acid (a term used in a 2004 paper on treatment of papilloma virus).
There have been in vivo rat studies, where human glioblastomas have been transplanted to rat brains and a subset of the rats treated with HAMLET, with prolonged survival. These publications, too, are more recent than my original investigations (1999) of the cancer killing abilities of mother's milk.
Another point that Michelle got wrong was her statement that "He went to see other doctors who also refused him,..." After my urologist declined to offer me a prescription for mother's milk, I approached three MDs. One was out of town, the other two wrote prescriptions for me after discussing my history and the theory. (The third, for the record, also said he would have, had he been in town.) This was far from the desperate search that Michelle implies.
Michelle did not note that when I was unable to get mother's milk (for one month after my initial donor weaned her child) that my PSA blood levels rose, all else being the same in my diet. But they quickly fell back into "normal" range as soon as I obtained milk from the Milk Bank. This is a real effect, not a placebo, as she implied with her out of context quote from the Milk Bank Director.
Another point Michelle left out of her article is that I am quite rational and do appreciate the seriousness of cancer. This is why I adopted an aggressive monitoring program -- doing monthly PSA blood tests and semi-annual (now annual) MRSI and power doppler ultrasounds. For the last two and one half years, none of these tests have shown signs of cancer. What I am doing works, at least for me.
Under the heading of "Skepticism", she really should have noted that the American Cancer Society has been funding research on the tumor killing properties of mother's milk since 1999. The Discover Magazine article (June 1999 -- see my Bibliography) noted that the Lund group received $200,000 to pursue those studies. Recent papers from the Lund group also acknowledge ACS support. Mr. Stevens' comments are, at best, disingenuous. I, too, encourage scientific study of this effect. As a trained scientist, with extensive experience in Biotechnology as well as other areas, I appreciate the need for good lab science and rigorous clinical studies. I would truly encourage the academic and medical communities to pursue this with great vigor.
Anecdotes do provide existence proof, feasibility proof. They are the guideposts to possibilities and should not be ignored. To dismiss anecdotal evidence is to choose to remain forever ignorant. Professor Kerr's statement "It's a bizarre claim with no evidence for it having any clinical value or use" demonstates his unawareness of the work coming out of Lund (and other laboratories) investigating HAMLET.
Finally, I asked her to provide my web site's URL in the "Related Internet Links" section of the story, which she did not do. This would have allowed readers to determine the value of what I have to offer for themselves and to judge the quality of her story.
The bottom line for me is the tawdry journalism the BBC practiced in writing and editing this story, trivializing and sensationalizing a story which could have a number of interesting angles -- success against cancer; a patient taking charge of his treatment and working with doctors and scientists; a novel approach to cancer; an area that merits much more investigation, both scientifically and clinically; a human interest story; a discussion of what medical approaches are taken seriously (those that can make pharmaceutical companies lots of money) and which are not; and so on. Michelle blew it journalistically and in her simple lack of professional courtesy.
Howard J. Cohen, Ph.D.
P.S. I found it annoying that your web site did not have an email address for contacting you. I tried to use your web form
but got your error screen
Likewise, an email to firstname.lastname@example.org was bounced as undeliverable. I would hope that you would want to encourage dialogue with your audience, not make it near impossible except via the post.