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Milk: It’ll do a body good! For cancer?

Here’s one of the stranger “alternative cancer cure” cases I’ve seen in a while. Basically, a man seems to think that a daily helping of his daughter’s breast milk will cure his metastatic colon cancer:

When Tim Browne sits down to a bowl of corn flakes in the morning, he slurps up one unusual, and controversial, extra ingredient: his own daughter’s breast milk.

He doesn’t do it for the taste — Browne initally said his daughter Georgia’s breast millk tasted “not unpleasant, but slightly pungent” — but for his health.

Nearly two years ago, the retired teacher and musician from Wiltshire, England, was diagnosed with colon cancer. He went into surgery a week before his daughter’s wedding, but a month later, doctors told him the cancer had spread to his liver and lymph nodes and was terminal.

Surgery was ruled out this time, so Browne began a course of chemotherapy. Desperate to help, his daughter Georgia came up with the idea while watching a show about breast milk.

“[It was] a man in America. It was prostate cancer this man had and he’d been drinking breast milk every day,” she said. “Anyway, this guy really swore by the breast milk and said that it had reduced his tumors.”

Sounds like a plan to me. Or does it? There’s no evidence that drinking breast milk will cure metastatic cancer, but that doesn’t stop Mr. Browne from thinking it does:

Browne had to stop taking his daughter’s milk when nausea from the chemotherapy made the taste intolerable to him. He is not cured of the cancer, but he is convinced that taking the milk was the right thing to do.

“It’s very difficult to tell if something is working or not,” Browne said. “What we feel comfortable about is the process of doing it has been amazing and has helped all of our family.”

ABC News medical contributor Dr. Marie Savard said that even though breast milk is known to have benefits and it’s make up can’t be reproduced, “there’s no research to say those same proteins in human breast milk will benefit this man.”

Savard said the placebo effect in this case, though, is very real.

Shockingly, this is probably exactly what’s going on, although it’s a rather strange way to activate the placebo effect. Even so, we can be pretty darned sure that there is no objective effect, particularly given that he is only consuming a few ounces a day. Also, the example of prostate cancer is not a good example, given that it is in general slow-growing and can wax and wane over time as it grows.Moreover, amazing advances have been made in treating colon cancer metastatic to the liver. Survival has improved a lot over the last decade or so. Mr. Browne could do quite well for a couple of years. At least, for his sake I hope so.

Still, none of this excuses this absolutely execrable piece of journalism, particularly the accompanying video, which is full of credulous comparisons that are almost certainly irrelevant to this man’s case. I just hope this sort of reporting doesn’t lead to adults raiding milk banks, given that there isn’t enough human breast milk out there to feed the premature infants who need it.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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