Cancer Complementary and alternative medicine Medicine Quackery

Why nonsense by celebrity doctors ticks me off

Remember Hollie Quinn?

She’s the woman who parlayed her “breast cancer cure testimonial” into a book deal, even though she underwent conventional surgical therapy of her cancer. When criticized for this, she came up with an incredibly lame defense of her book. Well, she’s at it again. This time around, she’s touting thermography:

As we describe in our book, Hollie uses thermography for ongoing monitoring of her health, and not just for her breasts but for her entire body. She hasn’t had a mammogram in eight years, since her original diagnosis. Thermography isn’t perfect, but it meets our standards of being effective enough, and safe. No smashing your breasts here, or shooting carcinogenic radiation through them. And the thing we like best about thermography is that it can detect looming health problems well in advance, including conditions that are precursors to cancer, when you still have time to prevent them.

Uh, no. Not by a long shot. As I recently described, thermography does none of these things. At best it’s a technology that’s not ready for prime time when it comes to screening for breast cancer. At worst, it’s a technology that will never be ready for prime time as a screening modality. Moreover, there’s no convincing evidence that it can “detect looming health problems well in advance” with a sufficient level of specificity to be of use.

Guess whose recommendation of thermography for breast cancer screening impressed Hollie? Yep, Dr. Christine Northrup:

The future of cancer treatment won’t look anything like it does today, with harmful and marginally effective treatments and tools that don’t address the underlying causes of cancer, and this includes outdated diagnostic technologies like mammograms. As one recent sign of this trend, none other than the internationally renowned Dr. Christiane Northrup recently shared her thoughts about thermography

That’s right. That’s the very same twaddle by Dr. Northrup that I deconstructed in detail. It’s bad enough when random quacks promote thermography as an alternative to mammography, but when celebrity docs like Northrup promote it that way, the result can be women like Hollie Quinn relying on thermography instead of mammography and even MRI to detect recurrences. That’s why I get so worked up about celebrity idiots like Dr. Christiane Northrup.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

17 replies on “Why nonsense by celebrity doctors ticks me off”

And you can be sure that this endorsement will be instantly quoted by all of the major woo-spreading websites and subsequently trickle down to woo-enablers and woo-providers who will cheerfully dispense it to their all-too-susceptible clientele.

Thermography: it slices, it dices, it juliennes fries! Wait, don’t order yet… Is there anything it can’t do? Other than detect cancer or other health problems, that is.

Seriously, these people have watched too much Star Trek and think they have found one of Dr. McCoy’s scanners.

So, they may not even find out about a recurrence until it’s big enough to feel or there’s symptoms of metastasis? If they even accept those as signs of recurrence since their thermography was negative.

the result can be women like Hollie Quinn relying on thermography instead of mammography and even MRI to detect recurrences.

Which works just fine for Ms. Quinn. A recurrence, after all, would be devastating. Not just because of the threat to her life, but much worse: it would mean she was wrong.

dcs, who has a co-worker whose wife is dying from recurrent breast cancer.

Part of me hopes that Hollie is merely in denial and that one day she will accept reality. But another part of me knows that that probably will never happen. I sincerely hope for her and for her family that she is one of the lucky ones that does not have a recurrence.

The quoted paragraph is so devoid of meaning it might as well have been generated by one of those computer algorithm text generators. “Looming health problems”? What the hell does that even mean? Does thermography tell you when you are going to catch a cold? Can it tell you if you have coronary artery disease? Measure blood pressure?

I guess I have to give them credit for self consistency, if western treatment for cancer is a sham so must western examination for cancer be a sham as well.

Thermography, unlike so much other Woo, at least has some logic behind it and the potential to be a useful tool. It relies on actual, you know, real physical properties, rather than some crazy stuff no one can prove.

The Engineer in me would actually like to see it developed to the point where it works. I mean, a passive optical system that doesn’t subject it’s target to anything but a little embarrassment? No radiation. No physical manipulation. Not even ultrasonics. What’s not to like?

But there is that big leap from ‘potentially useful, but as yet unproven‘ tool to ‘the best thing since sliced bread.

@9, Mike: I’m reminded of when in-mall MRIs were huge (are they still a big thing?). It’s a legitimate tool, but only if used correctly by skilled technicians. Which “guy in the mall” is clearly not. The really issue with the mall MRIs is that there is an exposure risk, in addition to false positives and false negatives.

Aaron @ 3:

Wasn’t she a Batman villain?

You’re thinking of Harley Quinn — aka the Harlequin. Maybe Hollie Quinn’s her sister?

Oh, that’s the lady who thinks my immune system cannibalizing my thyroid was caused by swallowing my words. Very scientific and doctor like.

Would that this case were in any way unique! The overwhelming majority of “self-help” and “health” books on the shelves these days peddle pseudo-scientific nonsense that our proudly uneducated American public can’t recognize for what it is. A recent book by Michael Specter named Denialism discusses this disturbing trend. (You can read my full review of this book and others at

“Up to an 88% rate of Autism diagnosis in post-hyperbilirubemia infants.”

All the more reason to study acetaminophen (both pre and postnatal) as an autism trigger, yes?

@14: I am unaware of any link between normal acetaminophen usage and hyperbilirubinemia. Do you have any data on this or are you assuming that since it has the potential to be very hepatotoxic that normal usage increases bilirubin?

So at the moment, I would venture to say there is no indication for thinking of acetaminophen use at any type (or kind, since overdose is acutely toxic) for investigation in autism.

ya, pisses me off, too!

“Doctors get pens and trinkets, football tickets, junkets to beach resorts. Less visible are the large sums handed over in “I’m going to make you a star” projects to groom them as trusted faces and voices in the service of some drug. Education and advertisement merge in these elaborate ventures, as the paid professor travels the country, lecturing about disease and, incidentally, the treatment thereof.

These “key opinion leaders” are bad enough, but who would ever imagine that the curricula vitae of many academic physicians (those on a medical school faculty) are packed with journal articles actually written by ghostwriters sponsored by pharmaceutical companies?

“Nobody expects American politicians to write their own speeches anymore,” Dr. Elliott reminds us, “and nobody expects celebrities to write their own memoirs.” Apparently doctors have now joined the ranks of the charismatic talking heads, mouthing the words of others.”

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