The Week That Wasn't: Cancer and Microbiome, Radiation Effects, Period Vacuums

Dana Najjar


June 14, 2019

Welcome to The Week That Wasn't. Here are three trending stories we decided not to cover this week, and why.

Breast Cancer and Gut Health

New research has detected a link between breast cancer and gut health. The study, published in Cancer Research, found that mice with breast cancer whose gut microbiota had been disrupted by powerful antibiotics and fecal transplants were more prone to experience aggressive tumor dissemination.

As a general rule, we don't cover animal studies because they rarely if ever have clinical implications for humans. That being said, there is some evidence that a patient's gut microbiome can influence their response to immunotherapy. Still, we can confidently say that experimentally induced breast cancer followed by a megadose of antibiotics and a fecal transplant is not illustrative of what takes place in most oncology practices.

Radiation Is Not a Virus

The hit HBO miniseries Chernobyl has been in the news this week for more than getting the highest possible rating by critics on Rotten Tomatoes. In addition to their talent for making compelling television, the people behind the show have demonstrated a keen ability to exaggerate the immediate aftereffects of the nuclear disaster and fundamentally mischaracterize the nature of radiation poisoning.

In the series, radiation victims are inexplicably covered in blood, and a woman "catches" radiation poisoning through exposure to her husband. She is then saved because the radiation is entirely absorbed by her unborn child. Although a tragic storyline, none of that could actually have happened, as Michael Shellenberger elegantly explains, since radiation is not contagious. And perhaps the biggest tragedy here is that the show's audience is now terrified of nuclear energy.

Women Hospitalized After Trying to End Periods With Vacuum Hose

A woman who is described in her Twitter profile as a nurse in Seattle, Washington, tweeted last week about two patients who were admitted after they tried to end their periods early with a vacuum hose (the tweeter noted that the brand of the vacuum cleaners remained a mystery). Although the claim has not been independently verified, it has been widely shared on the Internet and has been used to caution women against the perils of using suction as a remedy for their menstrual woes.

We didn't cover this because it's anecdotal and it's highly unlikely that such cases will be encountered over the course of a physician's career. However, several commenters on the Twitter thread pointed out that the women may have been trying to perform do-it-yourself abortions via menstrual extraction, a technique developed before abortions could legally be performed by medical professionals.

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