People who use alternative therapies instead of traditional methods to treat cancer are significantly more likely to die. Still, almost 40% of Americans believe that these unproven treatment methods can cure cancer. A survey from the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) found that 39% of those surveyed believe alternative therapy alone – like vitamins, minerals, or diet – can cure cancer.
“The vast majority of alternative therapies either haven’t been rigorously studied or haven’t been found to benefit patients,” said ASCO Chief Medical Officer Dr. Richard Shilsky. “When patients are making critical decisions about which cancer treatments to undergo, it is always best to follow the evidence from well-designed research studies.”
A Yale study, that was published in JAMA Oncology in July, found that people who decided to go the alternative therapy route were more likely to die. When asked why people would choose one of these methods, study author Dr. James Yu told SurvivorNet that “this is kind of like the anti-vaccine crowd in a way. My guess is that when faced with a tough decision like a cancer diagnosis or cancer treatment, these are patients who are wondering if there’s another way.”
The unfortunate truth, though, is that in most cases – there isn’t another way. Many doctors today are open to discussing integrative therapy methods – as long as these methods don’t seek to replace the medically approved treatments. Dr. Brian Berman, who runs the Center of Integrative Medicine at University of Maryland School of Medicine, told SurvivorNet that integrative medicine does not disregard more traditional treatments, but simply attempts to mesh the best of conventional and complementary medicine.
Interestingly enough, the ASCO study found that younger people are more likely to believe in alternative therapies. Almost half (47%) of Americans aged 18 to 37 believe these methods could cure cancer, compared to 21% of people aged 72 or older.
Dr. Yu also told SurvivorNet that those who chose complementary medicine were more likely to refuse conventional treatments like surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and hormone therapy. And these people had a two-fold greater risk of death compared to people who didn’t use complementary methods. The real reason people go the alternative route is unclear, but most doctors speculate that it has something to due with a desire to avoid the well-known side effects that come with approved cancer treatments. There are certainly ways to integrate methods that ease pain or help cancer patients cope … but studies like this are so important and need to be widely shared. The approved cancer treatments are approved for a reason.