One of the most dangerous aspects of unproven or ineffective alternative therapies is the harm to patients when these are used in place of scientific medicine. While most proponents of alternative therapies generally recommend them as an addition to conventional treatment, despite the lack of evidence this improves care, some advocates of alternative medicine condemn conventional therapies and claim unproven alternatives are as good or better. This is especially common in relation to cancer treatment. Promoters of alternative medicine often very aggressively criticize or deride conventional cancer treatments as harmful and ineffective. A new study adds to existing evidence that turning to alternative treatments for cancer is a very dangerous choice.
Skyler B. Johnson, Henry S. Park, Cary P. Gross, James B. Yu; Use of Alternative Medicine for Cancer and Its Impact on Survival, JNCI: Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Volume 110, Issue 1, 1 January 2018.
This study looked at human patients with a variety of cancers who chose to use various alternative treatments instead of conventional treatment. The patients were representative of the demographic characteristics typically associated with alternative medicine users: predominantly white, female, affluent, and educated. After controlling for other variables, alternative medicine use was associated with markedly lower survival times for every cancer evaluated except for prostate cancer, which tends to be very slowly progressive and much less likely to lead to mortality than most of the other cancers evaluated. The authors’ conclusions are quite clear:
we found that cancer patients who initially chose treatment with AM without CCT were more likely to die. Improved communication between patients and caregivers and greater scrutiny of the use of AM for the initial treatment of cancer is needed.
Of course, many advocates of alternative therapies will claim that this study doesn’t address the value of such treatments added to conventional medicine. However, it isn’t at all clear why therapies that evidently don’t work by themselves would add value when mixed with conventional treatments. And in any case, there isn’t yet any compelling evidence to support the integration of alternative cancer therapies with scientific medicine, and plenty of reasons to be skeptical of it. But this study reinforces existing evidence that turning to alternative medicine instead of scientific medicine when you have cancer is a potentially deadly choice.