It’s been awhile since we’ve done a good skeptical debunking—most of our articles lately have been counter-apologetics and so on, so I thought it was time for a change of pace! Enjoy.
A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook:
Did you guys know that stress can lead to leukemia?
As it happens, my parents are both hematologists/oncologists & cancer researchers. FYI, leukemia is cancer of the bone-marrow stem cells.
Is this like in the way drinking water can lead to leukemia? I’d love to see some peer-reviewed research if not!
There is peer-reviewed research.. but it’s like connecting the dots. I had my blood levels checked a few months back and saw that I had high MPVs [editor's note: mean platelet volume] from stress. Then, I went on to learn about large blood platelets which have an average life span is 5-9 days. So if the stress were to continue consistently for long enough, leukemia could develop. I did so much digging only to realize that I needed to find a way to chill out, asap. The stress was from neuro-lyme.
I was skeptical of my friend’s claim that stress can lead to leukemia, especially since it seems to be based on anecdotal evidence, and so I asked for my parents’ opinions. They are both Ivy-League trained, practicing clinicians with medical degrees. My father has authored about 16 research papers in proper peer-reviewed academic journals, and my mother about 5. Between them, they have over 60 years of experience treating and researching cancer, and are both Fellows of the American College of Physicians. For their full credentials and CVs, please visit marymuscato.com and joemuscato.com.
I called my father and asked if stress can cause leukemia. He said:
Nope. Of all the diseases where I think it couldn’t be related, that would be it.
My mother asked if she could supply me with a written response, so I’m just copying & pasting what she wrote. Here’s what she had to say:
Where do I begin? Normally, platelets live 10 days, and are big, juicy, sticky platelets when they “hatch”, and come into the bloodstream, from the marrow. As they age, they put lots of “fingers in the dike,” and the resultant platelets are smaller. If the MPV, mean plt volume, is big, it means that platelet turnover is increased, suggesting a shortened plt survival, less than 10 days. The most common cause of this is “ITP”, which means idiopathic (now autoimmune), thrombocytopenic purpura, where a person has antibodies against the platelets. This is an autoimmune problem, where the person, for unknown reasons, makes these antibodies, that attack the platelet membrane, and alert the spleen that there’s something wrong with the platelets. The spleen then does it’s assembly-line job of removing these abnl platelets from the circulation, destroying them in the spleen. Hence, the shortened platelet survival time, and the new baby plts, made, maybe 10-100 times the nl rate, are big. They work really well, and people who have this disease don’t have as much bleeding as one’d think, as the plts are extra big and sticky.
If someone has low platelets from decreased production, rather than increased destruction, as in aplastic anemia, or leukemia, where, in the former, the marrow is pretty empty – no seeds in the garden, so no platelets will be made and released to the circulating blood. This usually occurs with red cells (anemia), and white cells, (no white cells to fight infection, phagocytize bacteria and then engulf bacteria, killing them). People with leukemia don’t have empty marrows, but their marrows are overrun with infant marrow cells, that don’t mature into normal red, white cells or plts, but stay as infant cells, almost always the white cells, neutrophils, and the marrow gets tons of these useless infant cells, called blasts, or myeloblasts, that take up all the room in the marrow, so there is no room for normal clones of cells to do what the body needs – normal red, white cells and plts.
Those people with AA or leukemia, have decreased production of plts, and their MPVs are NOT increased – they’re not making much of anything. They have terrible problems with bleeding, infection, anemia, often need transfusions of red cells and platelets, need to be in the hospital as they’re totally vulnerable to get infections w/o having good, mature white cells. The MPV is a result of not making many plts, and is the effect of decreased production. It is not the CAUSE of anything, but the result of not making new platelets very quickly.
The MPV is not a cause of leukemia at all. It is an effect of not making lots of platelets, as baby plts are big. True, true and unrelated. [emphasis added]
Leukemia is formed when an abnormal clone of white cells gets a directive to grow faster than the normal clones, so the bad clones overrun the good marrow cells.
I added to my friend that I’d be happy to pass along citation numbers for any papers she finds that show a causative link between stress & leukemia, if she’d like my parents to give them a look and respond to them. If that happens, I’ll post their responses on the blog as well.
I’m not saying I agree nor disagree with my parents; I have zero knowledge of this subject. However, my parents do have knowledge of it—expert knowledge of it—and I think it makes sense to trust the experts until or unless a convincing body of good evidence is presented that indicates they’re wrong. That’s really how we should approach all claims like this, if you ask me. Experts can be wrong sometimes, sure. But we go with the best information we have, and trusting people who know more than you do is necessary for making our way in this world.
I think it’s irresponsible to post things like “Did you know…?” as though this is an absolute fact, if this is not the consensus view of professionals. In this particular case, it happens to be physically impossible as well, given the actual mechanisms of leukemia.
Have a great Friday, everyone!
Dave Muscato is an atheism activist, blogger, and public speaker. He is also a board member of MU SASHA. He is a vegetarian, LGBTQ ally, and human- & animal-welfare activist. Dave posts updates to the SASHA blog every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday; twice monthly for the Humanist Community at Harvard, and monthly or more on SkepticFreethought.com. His website is http://www.DaveMuscato.com
and don’t forget… other SASHA members! We are here for you, too!
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Today’s post is by SASHA guest contributor, Tara Schlotzhauer.
While I may be an atheist, I have many real life friends and acquaintances whom are religious; given that I live in middle of the Bible Belt of Missouri, the religion of choice is Christianity. Thus, it is not surprising that on a daily basis that I see at least one status on Facebook invoking some sort of help from God or thanks to God. At times, they are actually what I would consider legitimate concerns to pray for such as when a loved one is very sick or even dying. While I don’t agree with pray, I understand their need to let people know and the need to invoke good thinking towards them in this time of need.
However, more often than not, I come across a Facebook status where the person is praying for something that I would think is totally inappropriate to ask of God. For example, in the last couple of months, I have seen the following prays: asking for their football team to win the Superbowl/playoffs, asking for a big enough tax return to be able to buy a new Xbox 360/TV, asking for someone to be motivated to take their work shift so they don’t have to work, asking for God to send them someone to love and whom will love them, asking for their parents to buy them a new computer for their birthday, asking for the Supreme Court to overturn a court case where separation of church and state was upheld, etc.
As superficial and silly as I find all of these, I read a status from last night and a follow up this morning by a young high school girl that finally motivated me to write this post and share:
That’s right. A young high school girl spent all weekend not doing her homework (I know from reading other statuses regarding her weekend plans) and prayed for snow (that had already been predicted for days) to cancel classes. Then, when said predicted snow happens and classes are cancelled, she thanks God for the snow day and says this is why she is a Christian. This is also the same girl who, on Friday, posted about how many times she has dropped her phone over the course of the day (twice being in a toilet) but that God must be looking out for her because her phone still works…
I also do not know what is worse: the trivial prayer request or the number of people who liked the statuses (which I take to be agreement or approval).
While I cannot articulately express my frustration over the lack of thought by some Christians regarding the power of prayer, I can relate a great story I heard from another skeptic this past weekend at Reasonfest in Lawrence, KS.
While discussing the power of prayer with a friend who happen to be a preacher, the gentlemen gave the example of how prayer works in our lives by telling of how, a few weeks back, his wife lost her keys and was running late so she prayed for God to help her find her keys and, after a moment, peace surrounded her, she found them. My friend replied to this “touching story of prayer in action” by asking the question: So in order for prayer to work, you have to really mean it and pray really hard? Does that mean that all the families who pray for their family members of cancer did not pray hard enough? Does that mean all the starving children all over the world who prayed to God or had others praying for them did not really mean it? Or was it that God was too busy helping your wife find her car keys to help someone else who really needed his help for something more serious?
Take a moment to re-read that story to let it all sink in.
Scary enough on its own is how often, when I ask Christians why God will answer silly prayers or help people in trivial ways but does nothing about suffering the world, I get to hear these words: “God works in mysterious ways. As mere mortals, we can’t understand his reasoning or his plan but we have to trust in the Lord.”
I’m going to call BS on this. If there is a God and part of his plan includes pain, suffering, starving children, and people dying from horrible diseases, you can count me out. However, the more logical answer is that is either God is not real or, if he is real, is not all powerful or does not take an active hand in the world.
Tara Schlotzhauer is a graduate of the University of Central Missouri with a Bachelor of Science in Photography and her Master of Science in Technology. She is the Secretary of Central Skeptics at the University of Central Missouri and works with her boyfriend and fellow SASHA guest blogger Brandon Christen running the Warrensburg, MO chapter of Recovering from Religion.
and don’t forget… other SASHA members! We are here for you, too!
This week’s posts
- RT @AmericanAtheist: .@todayshow @alroker @NMoralesNBC Atheists are citizens too. Leave your god out of journalism. Remember we don't all b… 1 week ago
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- Buying CAFO products is bad, mmm-kay, Part 2: youtu.be/NGrCwXW084U?a via @YouTube 3 weeks ago
- About to get started at Speaker's Circle. Come out and help us #DefendDissent 3 weeks ago
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