This week, I received an email with the subject:
“CANCER INFO.UPDATES…..very important and informative!”
As many of you know, my husband recently completed a series of treatments for thyroid cancer. In addition, my sister had a cervical cancer scare last year and my best friend from college has had two rounds of treatment from two different types of cancer in the past couple of years. Plus, my former boss and good friend has been fighting leukemia for about 4 years now. Cancer is sort of a hot button issue for me at the moment, if you can believe it.
The email began:
PLEASE BE SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE TO PASS THIS IMPORTANT INFORMATION TO OTHERS.
AFTER YEARS OF TELLING PEOPLE CHEMOTHERAPY IS THE ONLY WAY TO TRY (TRY THE KEYWORD) AND ELIMINATE CANCER, JOHNS HOPKINS IS FINALLY STARTING TO TELL YOU THERE IS AN ALTERNATIVE WAY.
Uh oh. Warning bells started to go off immediately. A quick trip to Snopes and I discovered that this email is, if you can believe it, a piece of crap.
I probably should have let it go at that point. But I read on, because I noticed that this particular piece of spam uses some common techniques to promote bad, bad things. I thought it would be an interesting exercise to go through these techniques to demonstrate the particularly insidious nature of this piece of pseudoscience.
Technique #1: Claim authority.
Cancer Update from Johns Hopkins
The email makes multiple references to Johns Hopkins. By referencing a facility which is well known for new advancements in medical treatments, it fakes credibility. Â Interestingly, this particular email has apparently been around for a while. Long enough for Johns Hopkins to provide a detailed response and alert that the information is not from them and why it’s wrong. For that reason, I’m not going to go into the details of why the content here is wrong – they’ve done a fine job of that. I’m more interested in how the spammer gets your attention. And that’s with:
Technique #2: Ensure your audience will keep reading by making it relevant to them, immediately.
- Every person has cancer cells in the body.
- Cancer cells occur between 6 to more than 10 times in a person’s life time.
According to the Johns Hopkins site, it’s true in that among the trillions of cells in the human body, inevitably everyone has some abnormal or atypical cells that possess some of the characteristics of cancer cells. However, most resolve themselves and never result in cancer.
Which brings me to Technique # 3: Drop in a few pieces of truth into the mix, for credibility.
To overcome the multiple nutritional deficiencies, changing diet and including supplements will strengthen the immune system.
Initial treatment with chemotherapy and radiation will often reduce tumor size.
When the body has too much toxic burden from chemotherapy and radiation the immune system is either compromised or destroyed, hence the person can succumb to various kinds of infections and complications
Hey, all that sounds reasonable, no? Or at least like stuff you’ve heard before.
Now your target is primed for Technique #4: Lie, lie, and lie some more.
When the person’s immune system is strong the cancer cells will be destroyed and prevented from multiplying and forming tumors.
When a person has cancer it indicates the person has multiple nutritional deficiencies. These could be due to genetic, environmental, food and lifestyle (lack of sleep) factors.
During your lies, be sure to include plenty of Technique #5: Fear
Chemotherapy … destroys rapidly-growing healthy cells in the bone marrow, gastro-intestinaltract etc, and can cause organ damage, like liver, kidneys, heart, lungs etc.
Chemotherapy involves poisoning the rapidly-growing cancer cells and also destroys rapidly-growing healthy cells in the bone marrow, gastro-intestinal tract etc, and can cause organ damage, like liver, kidneys, heart, lungs etc
Radiation while destroying cancer cells also burns, scars and damages healthy cells, tissues and organs.
Initial treatment with chemotherapy and radiation will often reduce tumor size. However prolonged use of chemotherapy and radiation do not result in more tumor destruction.
Chemotherapy and radiation can cause cancer cells to mutate and become resistant and difficult to destroy. Surgery can also cause cancer cells to spread to other sites.
And now that you’ve got your subject quivering with fear, let’s get to Technique # 6: Crazy-ass recommendations (not really a technique, more the whole point of the spam, I guess):
An effective way to battle cancer is to starve the cancer cells by not feeding it with the foods it needs to multiply.
The rest of the article goes on to talk about the foods and processes that cancer cells feed on and that you should therefore avoid. The list includes but is not limited to:
- Sugar substitutes
- Red meat
- Cooked food
- Tap water
- Distilled water
- Meat (I know I said that already. They say it 3 times)
- Plastic containers or wrap in the microwave
- Water bottles in the freezer
It suggests nutritional and life changes including:
- A diet consisting of 80% fresh vegetables and juice, whole grains, seeds, nuts and a little fruit
- Fresh vegetable juice
- Green tea
- A host of nutritional supplements to “enable the body’s own killer cells to destroy cancer cells.”
- Oxygen therapy
Got all that? Now, by this point, one can assume that the email reader isÂ subsisting on a diet of vitamins, sticks and dirt while cooking sprouts on a small fire in the backyard and trying to focus while breathing deeply andÂ purifying their own water.Â SoÂ the email offers some final advice:
Cancer is a disease of the mind, body, and spirit.. A proactive and positive spirit will help the cancer warrior be a survivor. Anger, unforgiveness and bitterness put the body into a stressful and acidic environment. Learn to have a loving and forgiving spirit. Learn to relax and enjoy life.
Good luck with that. Oh, and oneÂ last thing. Technique #7: Make sure you make someone else’s life miserable too. Or you’re a bad person who hates everyone:
(PLEASE FORWARD IT TO PEOPLE YOU CARE ABOUT)
This is an article that should be sent to anyone important in your life.
I know I’ve gone on for way too long about this and most of you smart, skeptical readersÂ probably wouldn’t have even gotten past the first paragraph of this email before deleting it. But it’s important to remember that not everyone has our skeptical glasses and it’s important that every time, EVERY TIME you get one of these, you do take the time to research it and send back a response.
Will we stop the spam from flowing? Probably not. And will this email *really* turn a lot of people to an all-vegetable diet in lieu of traditional cancer treatments? Probably not. But there are two reasons to always respond to these:
- If you point out the crazy, it may help someone look at the next piece of crazy with a little more skepticism.
- This email, like many others, has a particularly anti-science message. Chemotherapy is a scary enough prospect as it is. If this email causes even one person to try to use nutritional supplements instead of chemotherapy, it’s too much damage.
Cancer and cancer treatment is scary. But it works. All the people I mentioned at the beginning of this email are alive today because of traditional cancer treatment. We cannot let even these small attacks on traditional medicine go by unchallenged. There’s simply too much at stake.