2 January 2013
Nappy New Year! I hope you had a great time with friends and family, dear reader. If your New Year’s celebration was anything like mine, it might have involved get-togethers, cocktails, and tangental (illuminating?) conversations. As the token science nerd in the room I was often bombarded questions regarding a recent report that ricocheted around the Web:
As reported in the reputable Nature NewsBlog: “Breast cancer behaviour: more than mutations”
and ScienceNews: “Pressure keeps cancer cells in check” to the more common type of attention-grabbing science-ish journalism “Squeezing breasts ‘can stop cancer’ ” which, by the time it got to me at a party sounded like “Dude, so I heard that squeezing boobs prevents cancer?!? Awesome!” followed up with ideas for crude pickup lines that could only seem appropriate given the (not so) mild influence of alcohol.
While I admit such reporting did generate a fair amount of humorous discourse, I would like to point out something that I feel has been under-reported about the study: This science has not been published yet. All good science goes through rigorous peer-review to weed out poor controls and flawed logic, among other things. As a scientist, it’s hard to take these reports seriously without the actual paper in hand, and I must suspend judgement until it has gone through those rigors (as should everyone else).
This phenomenon was reported in an annual meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology. Though undeniably a prestigious symposium, it is not a surrogate for peer-review. However, some of the comments made by the researchers made me raise an eyebrow:
“People have known for centuries that physical force can influence our bodies,” said Gautham Venugopalan, a leading member of the research team at the University of California in Berkeley. “When we lift weights our muscles get bigger. The force of gravity is essential to keeping our bones strong. Here we show that physical force can play a role in the growth – and reversion – of cancer cells.”
While those statements are not overtly fallacious, it leads one to believe that cancer can be treated with physical force. Ok, so what kind of physical force? Is the force always a good thing? Could it harm? How much? Does this change with age? Does this work for cancer metastases too? What about bone metastases? Does this work as a preventive measure?
From what I can gather some of the research seems both plausible and insightful, IF it survives peer-review, which it has not yet.
Once published, I will do a follow-up. Until then, I do not endorse use of this study for anything more than cheesy sarcastic pickup lines.