In an equally heartbreaking and inspiring interview today on the UK's favourite radio station BBC Radio 4, Tessa Jowell MP called for more collaboration between medical departments across the world to find a cure for glioblastoma, aka brain cancer.
Diagnosed herself last year, she has now made it her mission, in whatever time she has left, to be an advocate for the 4500+ people diagnosed every year in the UK (10,000 in the USA) with this rapid, aggressive form of cancer. It has one of the lowest survival rates of any cancer - just 25% of sufferers are alive after two years. Novel therapies are on their way, we were told on the radio, but nothing's ready yet.
I hope with all my heart Tessa finds a cure and I admire her attitude immensely, using her high media profile to benefit others and pull the world's oncology departments across the globe to unite and share their resources and knowledge. But I have a gripe, or rather, a deep sadness mixed with deja vu around this cancer story, that the one health department that won't be invited to the party is the very one that might just save her.
Tucked away in a corner of Kolkata (Calcutta), West Bengal is a clinic run by one Dr Prasanta Banerji. He's got an impressive track record treating all cancers. Between 1990 to 2005 he treated over 21,000 patients with malignant tumours. The patients were followed between two and 10 years; nearly 20% showed a complete regression of the tumour, while another 21% stabilised or improved. That's a 40% success rate across all cancers, on a par, if not better than what the mainstream medical hospitals can offer with the big gun treatments like chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
More importantly for Tessa Jowell though, back in 2003 Dr Banerji got together with Dr Sen Pathak at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Centre (MDACC), Houston and set up a trial to test his treatment on 7 patients with glioblastomas. Six out of the seven patients had complete regression (Int J Oncol, 2003; 23; 97582). Astonishingly, the treatment had absolutely no debilitating side effects whatsoever and cost just less than £1 per dose. If it sounds too good to be true, check out the evidence. Banerji has the scans, the blood tests and the patients to testify his methods work.
The scientists at MDACC were so impressed by the results that they began to offer future patients the same protocol as part of their range of cancer treatment, and in 2008 even the US governments National Cancer Institute (NCI) admitted the results were impressive enough to warrant further research into Banerji's protocol. (Oncol Rep, 2008; 20: 6974).
So what is this miracle treatment? Why isn't it on offer in every oncology department already and saving the NHS thousands if not millions of pounds? More importantly, why wasn't it Dr Banerji sitting alongside Tessa at BBC broadcasting house this morning talking about the most hopeful treatments the world has for glioblastomas in the future, rather than that apologetic doctor talking about 'hopeful' trials with Virus therapy?
My guess would be that, as well as being a doctor, Dr Banerji is also a homeopath, and you can't have a homeopath on Radio 4 even if his clinical results are breathtaking. Or perhaps they were afraid that that the BBC phone lines would be jammed with outraged callers when he revealed his protocol is a homeopathic preparation of a shrub called Ruta (that's common garden 'rue' to you and me) and a compound called Calcium Phosphate? Or maybe they just hadn't heard of him? However you look at it, it's a case of bad bias or bad research.
So Tessa, if you can hear me, don't wait for the great and the good oncologists of the world to get back to you, get your skates on and book that ticket to India.
A wider discussion of the evidence of Dr Banerji's protocol and other homeopathic treatments for cancer can be found here.