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Science or black magic?

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In reply to the comment by Veronica James, we are concerned that using hair for breast cancer diagnosis is still an issue! This comes as a surprise not only with respect to Dr James's response, but also in view of the subsequently accumulated experimental evidence, which clearly speaks against it. Apart from our report,1further studies4 5 (carried out by experienced research teams at different synchrotron radiation sources around the world) have not been able to confirm the correlation betweenx ray diffraction images of hair and breast cancer. Even though the original paper of James et al 2 was based on a total of 56 hair samples, only 12 pubic hair samples were used with the balance being scalp hair, which suffers from problems associated with hair treatment, etc.

We strongly disagree with Dr James's claims that our results suffer from poor experimental practice and that we do not have good images. Firstly, looking at the diffraction images of hair samples (that is, the same as presented in our report1) collected with the experimental set up as recommended and used in the study by Wilket al,3 it is immediately obvious that neither signal to noise nor resolution effects would render our results useless. The diffraction patterns displayed in fig 2were recorded on image plate at the Photon Factory in Japan by Professor Amemiya, a co-author of James et al,2 and are of similar quality to the ones recorded on a multiwire detector at the Daresbury SRS in our original paper.1 The two halves show diffraction patterns from samples of two women both diagnosed with breast cancer. There can be no doubt that one of these shows clear rings while the other does not. In the light of such clear experimental evidence from our work and that of others,4 5 it is astonishing that Dr James wishes to persuade the medical and diffraction communities that diffraction from hair can be used for diagnostic purposes. We hope that we are dealing with science and not black magic; science requires reproducibility. Her assertions for differences in results because of “appropriate amount of tension” without quantification is unscientific and subjective. If the sample preparation requires the “magical touch” of Dr James then it can be hardly be argued as a straightforward and routine screening method.

Figure 2

X ray diffraction images from the pubic hair of women diagnosed with breast cancer. (Right) Diffraction pattern displaying clear rings. (Left) Pattern with no clear rings. We are very grateful to Professor Amemiya for running the hair samples on BL15 at the Photon Factory, an instrument which was used by Dr James.1

In our opinion, there is no experimental scientific evidence which supports the assertion that diffraction from hair can be used to screen for breast cancer.


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