How we do harm


In this segment of HOW WE DO HARM (or How Doctors Do Harm), we summarise 2 cases of ladies with breast cancer and how harm was inflicted onto them by their respective doctors.

In Chapters 3 and 4 of the book, Dr Otis Webb Brawley, an oncologist, described 2 typical breast cancer treatment cases that were referred to him.

In the first case Helen, 50, had mastectomy in 1990 to remove a 4 cm lump together with 21 lymph nodes, all negative and classified stage II. She was “offered” post surgical chemotherapy. Her oncologist explained that a stronger dose is better than a weaker dose. “More is better” has been the hallmark of the oncology profession since the 1950s, the more chemotherapy you administered to the patient, the more effective in terms of killing the disease.”

To save Helen from succumbing to the toxic effects of chemotherapy, she was “offered” autologus bone marrow transplantation since her insurance company will pay for more of the costs of the transplant and chemotherapy (page 32). The side effects (page 33) Helen experienced from the transplant and chemotherapy was far more severe than she expected or was explained to her.

She experienced the following:

  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, dehydration,
  • Her marrow was slow to re-implant and start producing,
  • She had bleeding caused by a low platelet count and severe anaemia,
  • She had gastrointestinal bleeding and bleeding from the incisions made to harvest her bone marrow,
  • She had mouth and gum problems and cardiac rhythm problems,
  • She had a change in mental status due to electrolyte imbalance,
  • She had respiratory arrest and is put on a ventilator,
  • She developed pneumonia and had a tracheotomy

Altogether, she spent 5 months in a hospital only to be discharged to a rehabilitation hospital.

  • Helen survived it all. However three years after her discharge, she read a news story about randomized clinical trials that showed that bone marrow transplantation for breast cancer doesn’t prolong survival!! (page 33).
  • Naturally she was devastated. Why had she been subjected to a devastating procedure when no one, including her doctor, could say with certainty whether it worked? Why wasn’t she told about this uncertainty? Was it possible she was duped? Was it possible she had nearly died to help her doctor and various medical institutions accumulate wealth? (page 30)
  • When confronted, her oncologist admitted and responded that…”this was what everybody was doing at the time” (page 34)…so much for “FIRST, DO NO HARM!!”
  • Four years later, a routine chest X-ray showed a lesion in Helen’s lungs… had Helen’s breast cancer returned despite the transplant? As further lesions developed in her lungs after the initial chest X-rays, Helen was told by her insurance company that she was pronounced uninsurable (page 36).
  • From a middle-class woman who has done everything her doctors told her to do and had been put through tremendous amount of what is now considered unnecessary treatments that she suddenly found herself uninsured and dying of cancer. What are her options now? (page 36).
  • A few months later, Dr Brawley was handed Helen’s PET-CT scan which she described as” it lit up like a Christmas tree.” Indeed the scan lights up bright, showing lesions in the spine, ribs, pelvis, lung, liver and the opposite breast…. What happened to her? (page 40).
  • This is indeed a real tragedy of “modern, scientifically tested, evidence-based medicine.” Helen received a bone marrow transplant without being told all that was known about it, and, more important, all that was unknown. She got the transplant because she was insured and doctors could convert her suffering into cash (page 45). 

In the second case, Lilla Romeo was first diagnosed with breast cancer (Stage 1) in 1995.  She had surgery followed by radiation. Five years after the initial diagnosis, a routine scan (how many scans did she have in the 5 years?) showed the disease had returned. The doctors told her that “the prognosis turned grim…the cancer was incurable, and the goal of treatment was to delay the inevitable.” So Lilla was persuaded, and started non-stop chemotherapy (page 71).

In 2003, Lilla remembered an oncology nurse at the New York University Medical asked if she was feeling tired and with a hemoglobin reading just under ten, she was “suggested and offered” cancer-fatigue drugs (at that time, the popular one was Procrit by J&J)

In 2004, she was told that the hospital had switched from Procrit to another drug, Aranesp (manufactured by AMGEN), which caused a burning sensation under her stain at the injection site (page 79).

In 2010, when she requested copies of her medical records from the doctors who had treated her, Lilla learned that she had received a lot more Procrit and Aranesp than she knew. Her first dose was administered on 1/11/2001 and then almost weekly thereafter. Altogether, she was given 221 1/2 doses.

When Lilla was started on the hemoglobin-building drugs (also known as ESAs), little did she know that the drug companies manufactured a medical condition: cancer fatigue. She also had no idea that “her infusion was the front-row seat for observing a spectacular, indeed, cataclysmic, failure in medicine.” Pharmaceutical companies were promoting an untested therapy that was supposed to make patients feel better and stronger when, in fact, it caused strokes and heart attacks and in some cases made tumors grow.

By the time she discovered the harm inflicted on her (after 221 1/2 doses), it was too late. She had spent about US 600,000 for the hemoglobin-building drugs alone. Dr Brawley strongly believed that these drugs have shortened Lilla’s life. She died on June 9, 2010 at the age of 63 (Just before her death, Lilla was suggested and given “Avastin”!!)


Have you noticed a new trend in breast cancer treatment? More and more ladies are told that they have to undergo chemotherapy first to shrink the lump (whether the lump size is 3.0 or 3.5 cm) before surgery can be done, then further chemotherapy  and radiotherapy and perhaps hormonal treatment.

Why do you need to shrink the lump first in an external organ (like the breast) if mastectomy can be carried out? Recently we have seen a lady with an almost 5 cm lump removed by lumpectomy. So why is it necessary to shrink a lump of 5 cm or even 3.5 cm first by chemotherapy?  The patient will incur additional costs (for the chemotherapy drugs) and the additional toxicities and harm to the body.

We welcome your views on this matter.


There are lots of books/references on breast cancer screening/treatments, etc.  The following is a short list:-

1)       BREAST CANCER: THE HERBAL OPTION by Dr Chris Teo, PhD (If you follow the advice in this book, you will not have to suffer the collateral damage done to Helen and Lilla Romeo in the article above). ISBN No: 978-9832-590231.

2)       THE TOPIC OF CANCER by Jessica Richards (Read why and how Jessica decided against chemotherapy – her advice to all readers…”Don’t assume that what you are told by your doctor/oncologist is the only way or the best way for you”…For your information, Jessica did not have surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy and is still alive more than five years later after her diagnosis). ISBN NO: 978-0957-064409

3)       YOU DID WHAT? By Hollie and Patrick Quinn (Hollie Quinn was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer while 38 weeks pregnant and just three weeks before her 28th birthday.  She had a mastectomy but refused all other forms of conventional cancer treatments). ISBN No. 978-0-692-009048 

4)       MY HEALING FROM BREAST CANCER by Dr Barbara Joseph, MD (A physician’s personal story of recovery and transformation). ISBN No. 978-0879-837-112 

5) – Website of Dr Lorraine Day, an orthopedic surgeon who healed herself by surgery alone – no chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Watch her DVD…”You can’t improve on GOD”… she healed herself.

6)       AFTER CANCER TREATMENT by Dr Julie K. Silver, MD, an assistant professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School (she advises patients to explore Eastern and other medical systems-read chapter 6). ISBN NO: 978-081-884382 

7)       YOUR LIFE IN YOUR HANDS by Professor Jane Plant (Despite five recurrences from 1987 to 1993, she finally defeated her breast cancer using natural methods). ISBN No. 978-0753-505502 

8)       WHAT YOUR DOCTOR MAY NOT TELL YOU ABOUT BREAST CANCER by Dr John Lee, MD, a hormone specialist and Dr David Java, PhD, a biochemist. Find out why the authors believe that:-

  • The women who agree to try new chemotherapies are guinea pigs for a type of treatment with a notoriously poor track record (page 13).
  • Chemotherapy is an attempt to poison the body just short of death in the hope of killing the cancer before the entire body is killed.  Most of the time it doesn’t work (page 13).
  • Some chemotherapy does prolong life for a few months, but generally at the price of devastating side effects, and if a woman does happen to get lucky and survive that bout of cancer, her body is damaged; recurrence rates are high…the use of chemotherapy is purely a gamble…(page 13). ISBN No. 978-0446-679800

9)       A WOMAN’S GUIDE TO HEALING FROM BREAST CANCER by Dr Nan Lu, OMD (Discover how the miracles of ancient healing techniques can complement modern medicine to battle breast cancer). ISBN NO: 978-0380-809028.

10)    A WORLD WITHOUT CANCER by Dr Margaret Cuomo, MD and radiologist. (Throughout the book, Dr Cuomo made various references to breast cancer and its treatments. One notable point is that—breast cancer radiation seems to carry a particularly higher risk, and may be associated with subsequent lung cancer, as well as cancers of the blood vessel, bone, and connective tissues (page 79).  Interestingly, Chapter 4 is called “Cut, Poison and Burn: A Look at Today’s Treatment Options). ISBN No. 978-1109-618858.