Alternative medicine

Cancer warning: THIS treatment option could double your risk of dying


Recently, this headline came through from Charles Bankhead, Senior Associate Editor, of the prestigious web information pages on MedPage Today.  

He had posted a very interesting article, saying “Patients who opted for alternative medicine as the sole treatment for potentially curable cancers had significantly worse survival compared with similar patients who received conventional therapy”, a retrospective comparison showed.

Then I went to: 

When I developed cancer I thought about trying alternative therapies – but reading Simon Singh and Prof. Edzard Ernst’s book “Trick or Treatment” made up my mind for me.  The book looks at alternative therapies, from Ear Candles to Colonic Irrigation, analyses evidence, trials, etc, (if any), and came out with damning comments which were often very funny, but basically said there was no evidence to say most of the therapies worked.

However, The book covers and approves therapies such as massage, and explains what are their benefits.

So I continued with the conventional treatments, although – being a true nosy (a.k.a. investigative) journalist, I did try out some Alternative Therapies from Acupncture to Reiki and none did anything for me, whatever people say these do for them.

What happened 

When I first started treatment, friends would bombard me with “you must try this”.

I tried to be polite as I looked over their suggestions, then dropped them in the rubbish when I found airy-fairy explanations, but no hard evidence. Then I started to get email after email offering ‘miracle’ cures.  These constantly changed; my nasty mind presumed the senders were sick from taking their own advice and dropped away.  But there was always another one coming along;  targeting sick people must be a paying business.

Then I remembered a childhood heroine, Liliane Board, who won Silver at the Olympics for the 400 meters, got cancer and was put through a horrendous regime of Alternative treatment before dying at 22, making a big impression on me.  I had followed reports of the treatment she received at a Clinic in Bavaria, and some of the procedures, and ever since had been wary of alternatives to conventional medicine.

Yes, I know things happen like the way penicillin was discovered, but this had been known for years, and if you go – say – to Reims in France, the workers there collect cobwebs from the champagne cave walls (we were told this is a primitive form of penicillin but please don’t try this at home – as they say) to slap on wounds to aid healing.  So there are ‘unusual’ cures, but I need more evidence to believe in them.

What Bankhead wrote

“Overall, reliance on alternative medicine more than doubled the survival hazard, which increased as much as five- or sixfold, depending on the type of cancer. Patients who opted for alternative strategies tended to be younger, healthier, and more affluent as compared with patients who received conventional care for their cancers.

The study did not include patients who received complementary or integrative therapies in addition to conventional treatment, but focused instead on a small subgroup of patients who chose alternative treatments as their initial and sole therapy, Skyler B. Johnson, MD, of Yale Cancer Center in New Haven, Conn., and co-authors reported in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

“[Healthcare providers] are taught to respect patients’ wishes, especially with regard to treatment choices,” said the senior author, James Hu, MD, director of Yale’s Prostate and Genitourinary Cancer Radiotherapy Program. “If patients make an informed decision, because of patient autonomy, they can do whatever they want. We’re always advising them; we can’t make them do anything. What this study says is that we can advise patients that if they choose an alternative and unproven treatment, they are more likely to die than if they go with [conventional] therapy.”  

CAM and Placebos

In an attempt to get credibility, people came up with the name CAM – standing for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.  But the two are different:

Complementary Medicine generally has been trialled, and proven e.g. massage which is part of cancer treatment in France, Germany etc., and the two should not be lumped together.

During my treatment and after, I had lots of Complementary therapies, and I suspect these have made me look a lot better – satisfying!

However, I do believe in the power of suggestion, and if someone thinks an Alternative treatment is doing them good, the feel-good facture is a powerful force.  Just don’t make it your only treatment; today’s medical treatment is often off-hand and rushed, and to have the undivided attention of a therapist for a whole hour is very therapeutic.

Johnson reported having no relevant relationships with industry. Hu disclosed a relationship with 21st Century Oncology. Other co-authors disclosed relationships with Varian MedicalSystems, RadOncQuestions, and 21st Century Oncology.

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