Katie Britton-Jordan: Sadly, vegan diets don’t cure cancer

The story of Katie Britton-Jordan is the kind of story that makes me die a little inside every time I see one like it. Regular readers will immediately recognize why. It’s the story of another breast cancer patient who probably didn’t have to die of her disease but did anyway because she chose to forego effective, science-based surgical and medical care and instead opted for quackery. The end of her story came to my attention in, of all places, the Daily Mail:

A mother who chose to fight her cancer through a vegan diet instead of having chemotherapy has died.

Katie Britton-Jordan, from Derbyshire, was diagnosed with stage 2a triple negative breast cancer in July 2016.

She claimed chemotherapy, proven to save lives, was like ‘poisoning your body’ and opted to take an alternative approach.

Mrs Britton-Jordan, thought to be 40, also refused a mastectomy and radiotherapy. She passed away on Saturday.

Her husband Neil, 58, announced her death on Facebook, saying she was ‘surrounded’ by family and friends and ‘shrouded’ with love.

Here is the post by her husband:

Whose heart doesn’t break when hearing of Ms. Britton-Jordan’s daughter crying and asking why she has to say goodbye forever to her mom? You’d have to have a heart of stone not to start to choke up a bit at a story like this. On the other hand, as someone who’s spent his professional life trying to save women from breast cancer from dying of their disease, I can’t help but feel anger at the quacks who preyed upon this woman, and there is a lot of quackery that Ms. Britton-Jordan decided to pursue. What you don’t get from the news stories that you do get if you scroll back in her Facebook page is just how much she suffered before the end. But let’s not start at the end. We know what the end is. Ms. Britton-Jordan died unnecessarily, leaving her daughter motherless. How did she get there, though?

It doesn’t take too much searching to find stories in British tabloids from a couple of years ago glorifying her decision, for instance the Mirror and, yes, of course, the Daily Mail. From these stories I learned a lot. I learned first that she discovered a lump in her breast while breastfeeding her daughter. This led to an ultrasound, which showed two solid masses, which led to a mammogram and needle core biopsies of the masses. It turns out that she had three masses, measuring 32, 11 and 7 millimeters, in her left breast. As a breast cancer surgeon, I gather from the description that they were not close enough together to be removed en bloc (all in the same specimen), meaning that she was not a candidate for breast-conserving surgery (lumpectomy) and therefore needed a mastectomy, which is what her doctors recommended. Further, she had a subtype of breast cancer called triple negative, a nasty subtype that lacks estrogen receptor, progesterone receptor, and does not have amplified HER2. Triple negative breast cancer is nasty because, although it’s very sensitive to chemotherapy initially, often responding spectacularly to an initial course of chemotherapy, it tends to recur and metastasize and rapidly develops resistance to chemotherapy.

That being said, from what I’ve learned about Ms. Britton-Jordan’s cancer, I can say with confidence that it was quite treatable for cure. As mentioned above, it was stage 2a, which tells me that it hadn’t gone to the lymph nodes under her arm yet or spread elsewhere. With a combination of surgery plus chemotherapy, she could have expected an 85+% chance of long term survival. With a mastectomy, she might not even have needed radiation therapy. Yes, surgery is nasty. I understand that. Even with reconstruction, it’s scary as hell. I feel this personally now, having recently undergone a bit of anatomical rearrangement myself, and I didn’t even lose a body part, and, yes, I was scared. Chemotherapy is even worse. I get that, having seen more women than I can remember after they’ve undergone chemotherapy. The alternative, however, is near-certain death, particularly with triple negative breast cancer. Sometimes, with hormone-sensitive estrogen-receptor positive cancers, a woman can live a long time without treatment before her cancer progresses; this form of the disease can sometimes be pretty indolent. This rarely happens with triple negative breast cancer.

All of the news stories about Ms. Britton-Jordan seemed to concentrate on her vegan diet, complete with pictures of her with huge piles of vegetables. Of course, that was a prominent part of her treatment, even though diet alone cannot cure cancer. (Yes, diet can make you healthier and lower your risk of specific cancers, but once you already have cancer the horse has left the barn. It’s too late, purveyors of various dietary cancer cure claims notwithstanding, although there is evidence that diet can somewhat improve chances of longterm survival.) Annoyingly, all the news stories from a couple of years ago emphasized that the NHS wouldn’t pay for Ms. Britton-Jordan’s treatment. So two things happened. First, Ms. Britton-Jordan dove head first into an enormous pile of quackery:

She said: “I had always had a healthy diet and I didn’t eat red meat but I decided that I would go completely vegan and cut out sugar and gluten. I eat mostly raw food.”

Katie decided she no longer wanted to have CT scans on the NHS because of the amount of radiation involved.

With the help of her friends and family, Katie is now fundraising, so she can pursue other alternative treatments in the UK and abroad.

“I want to fundraise for other alternative treatments as well now,” she said. “There are so many things available.
“With conventional treatment, the common feeling is that if you don’t do surgery, chemo and radiotherapy, that is it.

“Anything else is seen as quackery.”

“I’m looking into mistletoe therapy, where extracts of the plant are injected into the body. It is believed to boost the immune system which helps the body fight cancer itself.

“I have had a few sessions in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, which involves breathing pure oxygen at higher than atmospheric pressures in an enclosed chamber.

“This process causes oxygen to be absorbed by all body fluids and by all body cells and tissues.

None of these will cure triple negative breast cancer, and it didn’t. In January or February of this year, she discovered that her cancer had progressed. She now had stage 4 disease. It had spread to her lymph nodes, bone, and liver, as I learned from perusing her Facebook page. When looking at these stories, I always like to go to the source when possible; so I perused Ms. Britton-Jordan’s Facebook page back past her diagnosis of metastatic disease. One thing that’s immediately apparent. She went straight to a quack clinic in Mexico, one I hadn’t heard of before, Centro Medico del Nordeste in San Luis Río Colorado. Perusing the website, I saw that CMN is very big on hyperbaric oxygen therapy for basically everything, whether hyperbaric oxygen is indicated or not. It even has this slick video in English:

The video shows all manner of cancer quackery being offered at CMN, from hyperbaric oxygen, to intravenous vitamin C, to laser therapy, to something called Asyra biofeedback, and what looks like unproven stem cell therapy. I could, of course, given them the benefit of the doubt there. After all, bone marrow ablation and reconstitution through stem cell reinfusion are a legitimate treatment for hematopoietic malignancies, but, come on, it’s Mexico. They also offer dendritic cell therapy, which is still largely experimental and thus unproven. Anyone want to make a bet that this treatment isn’t offered under the auspices of a legitimate clinical trial? Overall, I can see how the impression provided could seem very compelling. The whole picture is of a clean, modern, high tech hospital, with attractive, caring doctors and nurses. It’s an ad clearly pitched at Americans and other people from English-speaking countries, and not just because it’s in English.

If you look at a list of the treatments offered, you’ll find a very Hallwang-like list mixing quackery, unproven experimental therapies, and possibly science-based:

  • Bone Marrow (Autologous) Stem Cell Transplant
  • Dendritic Cell Therapy
  • Ozone Blood Therapy
  • Ozone Rectal
  • Transdermal Ozone Sauna Hyperthermia
  • HBOT Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
  • UVBI Ultraviolet Blood Irradiation Therapy
  • MAHT Major Auto Hemo Therapy (Hyperthermia/Ozone)
  • Hyperthermia/ FAR infrared Therapy
  • Cold Laser Therapy
  • Escozul/ Blue Scorpion Venom
  • Rife Technology Frequency Therapy
  • Biomagnetic Therapy
  • PSIO: Color/Light/Sound/Music Therapy
  • IV Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D Testing/Treatment
  • IV Glutathione
  • IV Vitamin B17 / Laetrile
  • IV Vitamin C
  • IV Bicarbonate
  • IV Selenium
  • Emotional Healing Therapies
  • Artemisinin
  • Naltrexone
  • Frankincense Oil/ Essential Oil Therapy
  • Beta Glucan
  • Carnivora
  • Essiac Tea
  • Enzyme Therapy
  • Stress Anxiety Management Classes
  • Art Therapy
  • Music Therapy
  • Compassionate Care Coordinators
  • Bloodwork, Radiology, Labwork
  • Pain Managment

Funny, but I thought Artemisinin was used to treat malaria.

There followed a series of FB posts showing what sorts of quackery Ms. Britton-Jordan was undergoing:

Actually, that doesn’t look like Rife therapy (which is quacky enough) but rather “detox foot bath” therapy, the quackiest of quacky treatments. Let’s just put it this way. The water changes color if your feet are in there or not.

Yep, I was right about the stem cell quackery:

We already know that bone marrow transplants do not work for advanced breast cancer. We don’t know if stem cell treatments do any good, but there’s little reason to think that they do given the history of bone marrow transplants for breast cancer, and we have no idea whether what CMN is doing produces actual stem cells. Even if it did, it would be unethical to administer such treatment outside of the auspices of a clinical trial. As for dendritic cell therapy, the same applies. It’s experimental, and there’s little reason to think that it will save the life of a patient with stage 4 breast cancer.

Sadly, within a month of returning home from Mexico, Ms. Britton-Jordan was sick as hell

And:

As you can see, her tumors were progressing. This was not unexpected, of course. Even conventional treatment could only have delayed progression of her cancers. The treatments that she was undergoing in Mexico likely had zero effect on them. There was only a couple of more entries after this but before the June 2 entry sadly announcing Ms. Britton-Jordan’s death, the last one being an April 22 entry showing an Easter egg hunt. My interpretation was that all the NHS could offer was palliative care. I also surmise from the general tenor of the posts that they were still trying to raise money for more alternative treatments. It’s all incredibly painful for me to read, knowing that this death did not have to happen and knowing how this quack cancer hospital took advantage of Ms. Britton Jordan and how it’s continuing to sell cancer quackery to anyone with the cancer with the means. It also angers me how, early on in her course, less than a year after her decision to forego treatment, Ms. Britton-Jordan’s story was portrayed favorably, as a brave decision of a woman going her own way, as this Daily Mail did:

Katie said: ‘I feel really fit and well and I’m still able to work and look after my daughter. My diet, which involves mainly raw fruit and vegetables, has really helped.

‘If I had chemo, I think I would be almost bed-ridden. I have seen friends have chemotherapy and they are affected for life by it. It’s horrible. You are poisoning your body.

‘In my opinion, there are lots of options out there that I think are much more valuable than poisoning yourself.’

Katie feels she has made an informed decision about her very individual approach to cancer, after becoming fully acquainted with NHS advice and treatment options.

She explained: ‘I have looked at medically-based books and films that shows if you remove the primary tumour, it gives off cancer cell inhibitors and removing it can activate circulating cancer cells that are in the body and there is nothing to stop them.

‘If you remove it, it can come back much more aggressively. I believe what I am doing is the best option for me.’

Yes, if you remove it, it can come back more aggressively. It happens sometimes. Here’s the thing though. Even that chance is far, far better than the course that Britton-Jordan took. That’s because if you don’t remove the primary tumor, this is what happens. It keeps growing and spreading until you die, and not all the vegan diets, IV vitamin C, hyperbaric oxygen, or other woo will stop it. Meanwhile, the editors of the Daily Mail and all the other British tabloids that credulously published a positive human interest story about Katie Britton-Jordan and about so many other cancer patients who rejected conventional therapy in favor of diet or quackery have blood on their hands for, in essence, advertising for quackery.

It’s yet another reminder that vegan diets don’t cure cancer, and neither does any of the other quackery described here. Sadly, the only cure for breast cancer remains the boring old combination of “cut, burn, and poison” (as the quacks like to portray it): Surgery on the primary tumor; radiation therapy to mop up microscopic deposits left in the axilla, as well as those left in the breast after lumpectomy or chest wall after mastectomy; and chemotherapy to mop up microscopic deposits left elsewhere in the body. For some cancers, targeted therapy can be used, like estrogen blocking drugs or HER2-targeted drugs, but triple negative breast cancer is not one of those cancers. Basically, what Katie Britton-Jordan did was the equivalent of doing nothing. I realize that she didn’t think it was the equivalent of doing nothing, but it was, and she paid the price.