“Cancer patients who use alternative medicine more than twice as likely to die,” is the stark message from The Independent.
Researchers found that people who chose alternative medicine instead of conventional cancer treatments were much less likely to survive for at least five years.
Conventional treatments included surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy or hormone treatments. The research only applies to people who choose not to have conventional treatments.
Overall, 78% of people having conventional treatment for cancer survived at least five years, compared to only 55% of people having alternative treatment alone.
The difference was biggest for breast cancer, where people who chose alternative therapies were more than five times as likely to die within five years as those who chose conventional treatments.
Because this is an observational study, we don’t know if other factors might have affected people’s survival chances, as well as treatment choice. However, treatment choice seems the most likely explanation.
There are reports that some people find complementary treatments of benefit during cancer treatments. For example, some people have said that acupuncture helped them cope better with the side effects of chemotherapy.
But importantly, the emphasis is very much on the “complementary” and not on the “alternative“. Ignoring medical advice on the treatment choices that potentially offer the most benefit could prove fatal.
This was an observational case control study. This means researchers identified people with cancer who chose to use alternative therapies (cases) and compared their outcomes with those of people with cancer who chose conventional treatments (controls).
The controls were matched as far as possible with each case based on age, sex, demographics and type of cancer. Observational studies can show trends and links between factors (in this case between
Observational studies can show trends and links between factors (in this case between type of treatment and length of survival after cancer diagnosis) but cannot prove that one causes the other.
Researchers used data from the US National Cancer Database to identify patients with breast, lung, colorectal or prostate cancer, who opted not to receive conventional cancer therapies, but were recorded as having had “other-unproven cancer treatments administered by non-medical personnel.”
These patients were matched with two patients with the same type of cancer, who were similar in other ways, but had opted for conventional treatment.
Researchers then looked to see how many people lived for at least five years, comparing those who chose alternative therapies with those who chose conventional cancer treatments.
Researchers only included people who had cancer that had not yet spread from the initial site. This type of cancer is usually treatable by conventional treatments.
They also excluded people with stage 4 (advanced) cancer, those whose treatment was intended to be palliative rather than curative, and people whose treatment was unknown.
Researchers found 281 people who matched the criteria and who had opted for alternative therapy only. Of these, 280 were matched to 560 people with the same cancer, who chose conventional cancer treatments.
Please like, share and tweet this article.
Pass it on: Popular Science