Monday, July 28, 2008

Media have jumped the gun on prostate drug

Prostate cancer can be a killer. if you have the advanced form of the disease you could be dead within a year. No wonder everybody in men's health and cancer is so excited about abiraterone - a drug that appears to have achieved spectacular results.

"Within three months I have had men stop their morphine and say I'm going to see my daughter living in Australia," said lead researcher Dr Johann de Bono. But should we get this excited about a drug that at this stage has only been tested conclusively on 21 men, none of whom have taken it for more than two and half a years. Larger trials are going on but they haven't reported yet and even if everything goes swimmingly, the drug won't be on the market before 2011.

I think the media have jumped the gun here and the reason is the myth of the magic bullet. One of the great attractions of drug breakthrough stories is that they seem to offer a super cure from science fiction. But there is no magic bullet for health - it's always a question of balancing a number of factors and that's far more difficult to write about in a headline-grabbing way. The rest of us need to understand the media's shortcomings or we are we going to be frustrated by false hopes time and again.

Among other recent cancer research, there was another small study - 22 volunteers this time - which the media didn't report suggesting that eating a portion of broccoli a week might interfere with the development of prostate cancer. No false hope there. Broccoli is available now not 2011.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The challenge of health campaigning

News today that so many of us are scared of the sun highlights the challenge for health campaigners.

The sun is the reason we and the planet are here yet it seems many of us think that any exposure to it can cause cancer. In fact, we need some sun to help the body manufacture vitamin D.

Health campaigners are always looking for a simple message since simple messages are more likely to succeed yet good health is usually more complicated. It's about balance. Alcohol is a good example: a little alcohol is good for you - too much is a killer.

We wrestle with this on malehealth all the time. We want to keep it simple but if the message is not just simple but simplistic it may not help health at all. Sadly, with the possible exception of packing up smoking, good health is rarely as simple as eat X, do Y, don't do Z. And that's why health promotion - or social marketing to use the current vogue term - is more complicated than selling soap powder and must be founded in the reality of the way we all live.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Work is my Catch 22

Wow, that was a long break between posts. If you've read this month's main feature on malehealth - The main cause of men's ill health in the developed world - you'll probably figure out why.

I think work is at best overrated and at worst a killer. My next project is a book on men's health. It's going to be a shortish book as it will be aimed at men who aren't, if truth be told, particularly interested in their health but know it makes sense to take a bit of notice. That's most of us, really. In a short book you need to think about what you're going to focus on before you start writing and that's what got me thinking about work.

The book will mention our genetic inheritance but as no reader will be able to do much about that I won't be banging on about it. I'll be looking at the the things we can change - the lifestyle aspects of health. But in a short book, which ones should you cover? So I started thinking about the things we spend most time on. Logically, by making these aspects our lives more healthy, perhaps we can effect the biggest changes in our overall health.

So what are the things we spend most of our time doing? Well, work's one, sleeping's another and perhaps eating and drinking is a third. If we can develop a healthy approach to the things we spend most time doing, the rest might follow. The basic principle, at least, seems to work. Certainly, if you can get a healthy attitude to work, a good night's sleep and a half decent diet, you'd be well on the way to doing what needs to be done to minimise your chances of joining the 120,000 men who die prematurely every year. What do you think?

What I need to do now is to collect all this thinking together with the latest data and research and turn it into the sort of book worth reading. Trouble is that is going to involve a lot of hard work. And that's not healthy. It's my Catch 22.