Health Check: 'The Cancer Lifeline Kit costs no more than a day at a health spa'

They know how to do things in the world of alternative medicine. I went to a book launch at the Royal College of Physicians last week expecting the usual glass of warm wine, peanuts and a dozen worthies discussing the latest thing in healing teas and tai chi. Instead we got all the razzmatazz of a fashion launch.

The room was jammed with 200 people gulping down unlimited supplies of fizz and fancy bites. Balloons framed a small stage from which came speeches, a slide show and thumping rock music. The Duchess of Gloucester was there, and leading lights in the health world. The book (though that is a misnomer) was beautifully displayed and available to buy - at £150.

That was the first thing that made me whistle. The "book" is actually a box of CDs, videos, recipe cards, workbooks and action plans, all beautifully packaged and illustrated. Called the Cancer Lifeline Kit, it is aimed at those who are not content merely to live with the disease, but are determined to grow through it. The blurb says: "It will show you how you can take control and become the most powerful element in your recovery process."

The kit is the brainchild of Dr Rosy Daniel, already a celebrity in the alternative cancer-treatment world. She was the medical director of the Bristol Cancer Help Centre until 1999 before leaving to set up Health Creation, a company providing "holistic health care products", of which the cancer kit is the first. It is a premium product and, as Health Creation employs 30 people and the kit has taken three years to produce, it must have cost a tidy sum. I'd imagine the shareholders are biting their nails.

But no one knows the market better than Daniel. The kit is being promoted through the Haven Trust and the Harley Street Clinic - top of the range institutions on each side of the holistic/orthodox divide. She has secured the support of luminaries from orthodox medicine such as Professor Karol Sikora of the Hammersmith Hospital and the World Health Organisation, and now special adviser to HCA, the US owners of the Harley Street Clinic.

Professor Sikora told me that he was backing the kit because it could give people a better time living with cancer. "People are interested in alternative medicine and want to know more about it. It is about giving people happiness."

Indeed - and given the unhappy history of the Bristol Cancer Help Centre, from which Daniel drew her inspiration - that seems neatly appropriate. Founded in the early Eighties, the centre won early support from Prince Charles and became internationally known for its rigorous programme of diet, exercise and meditation. But its claims for its treatments in the early years did not endear it to doctors. And that led to one of the most scandalous episodes in medicine when a flawed research project looking at the effects of the centre's regime appeared to show that women who had attended it died sooner than those who had not.

The study was published in The Lancet in 1990, but within weeks its flaws were exposed as it became clear that the reason the women at the centre appeared to die sooner was that they had more advanced cancer. The error was so fundamental, and the misreading of the results so shaming that one of the authors committed suicide. Robin Fox, then the editor of The Lancet, later said he would go to his grave with the words Bristol Cancer Help Centre branded on his heart.

It took a long time for the centre to recover. More than a decade later, the idea that alternative medicine can be offered alongside - rather than as an alternative to - conventional treatment in cancer has won broader acceptance (although the Haven Trust still encounters difficulties with some doctors). And to further that aim, we now have the Cancer Lifeline Kit. As someone at the party said to me, it is no more than the price of a day at a health spa. Even so, I wonder how widely its message will be spread with that £150 price tag.

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