The ‘Health Ranger’ on Radiation Therapy

[BPSDB]You can always rely on the self-appointed ‘Health Ranger’ for an understated opinion on conventional medicine. In his latest newsletter he says:-

Looking for a way to fry your brain and cause memory problems and impaired cognitive function? Just submit to radiation therapy (and kiss your brain good-bye…)

Kind of implies that all radiation therapy will destroy your brain does it not? Reality turns out to be a bit different.

He links to this article by NaturalNews staff writer David Guttierrez. The first thing that struck me on reading it was that it does not quite deliver on the level of scariness Adams implies:-

(NaturalNews) Radiation therapy for the treatment of brain tumors may lead to cognitive decline later in life, according to a study conducted by researchers from VU University Medical Centre in Amsterdam, Netherlands, and published in The Lancet Neurology.

No link is given but at least a source of the research is given, which is more than Adams’ has managed recently. However, a quick bit of googling finds the abstract here

Scientists have known for some time that radiation therapy can damage healthy brain tissue, but prior research found no immediate negative effects from the treatment. In the new study, researchers conducted brain function tests on 65 patients who had undergone treatment for low-grade glioma 12 years previously.

In fact the researchers say that their previous study had suggested that that the tumour itself, rather than the radiation used to treat it, caused the most problems. Moreover, the research refers specifically to one type of tumour (low-grade glioma) – a brain tumour, so we are not talking about radiation therapy in general :-

Our previous study on cognitive functioning among 195 patients with low-grade glioma (LGG) a mean of 6 years after diagnosis suggested that the tumour itself, rather than the radiotherapy used to treat it, has the most deleterious effect on cognitive functioning; only high fraction dose radiotherapy (>2 Gy) resulted in significant added cognitive deterioration. The present study assesses the radiological and cognitive abnormalities in survivors of LGG at a mean of 12 years after first diagnosis.

There is also a lesson here for Adams and other alt-med practitioners; these researchers had previously come to a particular conclusion as to the balance of risks and benefits of using radiation therapy to treat these particular kinds of tumours but continued to follow up on patients and test their conclusions. When was the last time an alt-med practitioner did that?

The researchers found that a full 53 percent of patients who had been treated with radiation exhibited problems with mental function 12 years after their treatment, compared with only 27 percent of those who had not undergone radiation treatment. Radiotherapy patients were especially likely to have problems with memory and attention.

While it was true that the researchers found statistically significant deteriation in scores on a number of neuropsychological tests, the claim of attention deteriation should be taken with a pinch of salt:-

…attentional functioning deteriorated significantly between the first and second assessments in patients who had radiotherapy (p=0·25)

If I understand stats correctly, the above findings could have come about by chance and are not statistically significant.

My over-all reading of this research is that there are risks of cognitive decline if radiation therapy is used, so it should be avoided in the cases of patients whose prognosis for long-term survival is good even if it is not used. Not quite the shock-horror Adams tries to make out.

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