Chemotherapy Doesn’t Work? Not so Fast….

I’ve written a bit about “integrative” veterinary cancer care previously and how it is often marketed with claims that are unsupported by evidence. A recent example of this is a post  on the Huffington Post blog in which a prominent CAVM advocate suggests that his conversion from skepticism to belief in alternative medicine is due in part to his realization that a therapy he judged to be quackery actually works. In reality, the therapy is still unsupported by anything stronger than anecdote and personal opinion.

Such unproven therapies are often marketed on the basis of claims that conventional therapies for the same problems are useless, or do more harm than good, and so it makes sense to try alternatives even if they don’t have good evidence behind them. This is an argument commonly made about chemotherapy and alternative cancer therapies, and it is made explicitly in the comments following the HuffPo article.

Fortunately, today Dr. David Gorski at Science-Based Medicine has posted a thorough and cogent response to the bogus claim that chemotherapy is useless. He does a great job of explaining both the value and the limitations of chemotherapy as well as pointing out the weaknesses of the evidence CAM advocates use to support their claims about chemotherapy. I encourage every to have a look at Dr. Gorski’s article.

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7 Responses to Chemotherapy Doesn’t Work? Not so Fast….

  1. art malernee dvm says:

    just a note to let everyone know they are getting about (from memory reading their website) about 30 percent cures treating canine lymphoma at one of the vet schools. I think North Carolina. Not sure the cost and if its both t and b cell. I would guess most vets now treat at least one of these cases a year unsuccessfully in their office each year and more than that at the so called cancer clinics, so we need to get the word out.
    art malernee dvm

  2. skeptvet says:

    I hear good things about the new bone marrow therapy, but it is definately still a university-level therapy, not available to most clients logistically or financially. I’d be interested in how you define “unsuccessful.” I have 3-5 lymphoma cases under chemotherapy treatment at any given time, and while I don’t cure any, I have remission rates of 70-80% and durations of emission that average about a year. Some pets don’t respond, and we stop treatment after 4 weeks, but I’ve also had dogs in complete remission for over 3 years. I wouldn’t classify this as “unsuccessful” even though it’s not a cure. If the ppatient feels perfectly healthy and has 1-3 years of additional life, that seems a pretty good outcome to me.

  3. art malernee dvm says:

    The disease does go away on its own one out of ten thousand cases. If you are a four year old golden retriever with lymphoma wouldn’t you be ticked off if the two of us went ahead and treated without telling your owner about the possible cure vet school treatment? I agree we extend life treating them but I “believe” that we measure that extended life in months not years. For everyone treated that lives three years we have many more than that that does not live one year or maybe even one or two months. I also “believe” many people end up paying as much, or more treating lymphoma at the local cancer clinics as they would at the vet school. The dogs are getting getting CT or MRIs along with the chemo visits at these cancer clinics. It does not take many MRIs at two thousand dollars a pop to run up a twenty thousand dollar imaging bill.
    art malernee dvm
    fla lic 1820

  4. Janet Camp says:

    I read Dr. Gorski regularly and am glad to see him mentioned here. I would add that all the regular contributors at do a wonderful job trying to combat a world full of SCAM (Supplements, Complementary and Alternative Medicine). Dr. Crislip, Dr. Atwood, Dr. Hall, and others (not all MD’s) are my heroes. You should be there, too so I don’t have to remember to pop over here now and then! You are the best overall writer among them in my view, though all have their strengths.

  5. jaycee says:

    What if your dog doesn’t have lymphoma — the “designer” cancer, which is just about the only one you hear about. My dog has lung cancer — andenocarcinoma which met. to his elbow. No symptoms, except a limp which was diagnosed by two different radiologists as soft tissue trauma. Went to the animal cancer care clinic in Ft.lauderdale , FL. Started chemo Vinablastine/palladia. The dog was great for 5 weeks– until he got a “week off” for a rest. When his x-rays was done the following week I was told the disease had “progressed” — didn’t even know that was a possibility while on chemo. So another drug — carboplatin– has been given (this is a once ever 3 week drug). I am now seriously considering alternative therapy as it is very clear to me that these oncologists haven’t really got a clue about anything but “designer cancers” but are just trying whatever they have in their “tool box.” So, sure if your dog has a popular cancer, maybe chemo is a good idea. If not, I would advise to carefully question your oncologist because I was not informed that the treatment might cause the disease to progress– this is about $10,000 later. But the money isn’t even the issue — the issue is poor communication. Not one time has a doctor called to ask how my dog was doing. Totally uncompassionate and disgraceful. Think really hard before you go to one of these facilities.

  6. skeptvet says:

    I have no idea what you mean by a “designer” cancer. So when we figure out how to treat one kind of cancer more effectively, that’s a signs of failure because we haven’t yet had equal success with all the others?!

    Sometimes, unfortunately, the truth is there are limitations to what is known and what can be done. If you’ve had vets who didn’t communicate well, then that is unfair to you and your pet. But unfortunately even the nicest vet isn’t going to do you or your dog any good if they are selling you on alternative cancer therapies that haven’t been properly tested. You may think there is nothing to lose, but there is ample evidence in humans with cancer that untested alternative therapies may not only fail to help, they often make things worse and add unecessary suffering.

    Only you can decide what is best for your companion, but I’m afraid your understandable frustration with what is happening to your pet, and perhaps the poor communication you’ve had from your doctor, is not a reason to gamble on the false promise of therapies that either haven’t been shown to work or have been shown not to work.

  7. Art Malernee Dvm says:


    “Canine lymphoma is one of the most common types of cancer in dogs,” says Dr. Steven Suter, assistant professor of oncology. “While the survival rate with current treatments is extremely low—about 0 to 2 percent—the cure rate for dogs that have received a bone marrow transplant is at least 30 percent. We see from human medicine that peripheral blood stem cell transplantation, in conjunction with chemotherapy, has raised human survival rates considerably.”

    Looks like from the current link the vet school is no longer taking patients. I wonder why?

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