The spurious story that the cause of leukaemia had been found was followed by a number of letters -- all dissenting -- in national newspapers.
Report from Radioactive Times Volume 3, Number 2, October 1999 (content not updated)
Oncologists and haematologists have long known that leukaemia and malignant diseases are multifactorial, involving stepwise progression from the benign to the malignant state often over many years. There are at least four well recognised factors that lay the ground for eventual malignant change.
First a heritable predisposition - for example to faulty DNA repair. Second environmental increase in factors known to damage DNA, such as petrochemical pollution or radioactivity. Third a triggering virus or bacterium, usually one which is ubiquitous and in most people causes few problems. A good example is the EB virus which in most cases causes no disease or glandular fever but which in the unlucky minority may cause Hodgkin's disease. And fourth , factors weakening the final immune defence against malignantly altered cells, such as ageing, Aids, immunosuppressive drugs and chronic stress, may play a part. Smoking does not cause lung cancer by itself and the most likely triggering virus here is one of the HPV family, similar to those associated with cancer of the cervix.
A vaccine against any organism found to be involved in such malignancies might reduce the incidence of the particular cancer it helps to trigger, but it would not absolve us from our responsibility to eliminate the environmental agents that damage the DNA and weaken the immune defences of the population exposed.
LA Kay, Consultant haematologist, London.
(Guardian 18th August)
My understanding of the relevant conventions is that scientific truths (or working hypotheses) are normally developed according to a strict procedure - a hypothesis is formulated and its truth then tested after the collection and analysis of experiments or observational data. In contrast, Leo Kinlen's technique seems to have constituted two decades of trawling a drag net through oceans of data in the hope of finding a correlation into which a hypothesis can be retrospectively inserted.
Surely it is not so much "difficult to trace the infectious agent for leukaemia without some microbiological clues" as, in fact, scientifically invalid to trace that infectious agent without physical evidence? What we see here, in the context of this intensely political controversy, is the extended infancy of an as yet untested hypothesis. This kind of speculative reverse engineering promises to elevate the already lively debate about the link between scientific insight and imaginative creativity to new heights. Denis Henshaw of Bristol University has conducted research into the relationship between exposure to intense power frequency electromagnetic fields and childhood cancers. Despite the fact that Professor Henshaw has demonstrated a causal mechanism (the enhanced deposition of radioactive radon gas on particles of household dust) his results are hotly contested by the authorities. The new Sellafield research has failed to demonstrate a causal mechanism, but is represented virtually as fact. It is equally valid to assert that a virus may not hold a clue to Sellafield child cancers.
Joe Banks, London
(Guardian 18th August)
Your article "Found: the cause of leukaemia" is sadly misleading.
The possible link between the mixing of populations and the onset of leukaemia in children by known or yet to be discovered viruses is recycled news.
The hypothesis is certainly plausible. So plausible in fact that a five year national study into the causes of childhood leukaemia has just been completed and the results will soon be reported. Sadly there is a massive difference between claiming that a virus can cause leukaemia and proving it. The Leukaemia Research Fund commits over £2m annually to research in the hunt for such a virus. We would dearly like to celebrate with you. Unfortunately the news is premature and requires more painstaking detective work before there is a real story to tell.
Dr David Grant, Scientific Director, Leukaemia Research Fund.
(Independent, 18th August)
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