The Bristol Cancer Help Centre may have to close next year, having never recovered from the adverse publicity following a now discredited study showing that Bristol breast cancer patients were more likely to die.
The cancer centre, which used to have a three month waiting list, has stopped taking residential patients from December 1991, reduced staff and suffered a lack of leadership after its co-founder, Penny Brohn became ill.
Speaking for the Centre, Maria Duffy said that day courses for December were fully booked and that the centre would reopen its doors next year with a new, leaner operation and also appeal for £1 million in donations to extend its premises.
The cancer centre’s woes began with the publication of a study in the Lancet 8 September 1990, comparing breast cancer victims attending the centre with a supposed set of matched controls. The study concluded that Bristol patients were more than twice as likely to die, and the sensational results were splashed over every newspaper in the land.
Two months later, following the criticism of the study by several researchers, the authors finally printed a retraction. It seemed that the women in he Bristol Study had far more advanced cancer. One of the authors, T. J. McElwain of the Institute of Cancer Research went on television to apologize, in effect, for any damage done to Bristol and soon after, killed himself (which may or may not have been due to this). See WDDTY Vol 1 No 11 for the problems with the study.
Nevertheless, the negative image of the Bristol holistic approach a combination of diet, exercise, therapy and meditation has unfortunately stuck. In a recent story the Independent on Sunday quoted a cancer epidemologist as saying that cancer patients at Bristol got sicker because they were “undernourished” on the centre’s recommended vegan diet.