Alternative Medicine For Cancer Linked To Lower Survival Rate

Patients who choose to receive only alternative therapy as treatment for curable cancers rather than conventional cancer treatment have a higher risk of death, new research suggests.

There is increasing interest by patients and families in pursuing alternative medicine as opposed to conventional cancer treatment. This trend has created a difficult situation for patients and providers.

Although it is widely believed that conventional cancer treatment will provide the greatest chance at cure, there is limited research evaluating the effectiveness of alternative medicine for cancer.

Ineffective And Unproven

Senior author James B. Yu, associate professor of therapeutic radiology at Yale University’s Cancer Center, said:

“We became interested in this topic after seeing too many patients present in our clinics with advanced cancers that were treated with ineffective and unproven alternative therapies alone.”

To investigate alternative medicine use and its impact on survival compared to conventional cancer treatment, the researchers studied 840 patients with breast, prostate, lung, and colorectal cancer in the National Cancer Database (NCDB) — a joint project of the Commission on Cancer of the American College of Surgeons and the American Cancer Society. The NCDB represents approximately 70 percent of newly diagnosed cancers nationwide.

Researchers compared 280 patients who chose alternative medicine to 560 patients who had received conventional cancer treatment.

The researchers studied patients diagnosed from 2004 to 2013. By collecting the outcomes of patients who received alternative medicine instead of chemotherapy, surgery, and/or radiation, they found a greater risk of death.

This finding persisted for patients with breast, lung, and colorectal cancer.

More Likely To Die

The researchers conclude that patients who chose treatment with alternative medicine were more likely to die and urge greater scrutiny of the use of alternative medicine for the initial treatment of cancer.

“We now have evidence to suggest that using alternative medicine in place of proven cancer therapies results in worse survival,” says lead author Skyler Johnson. “It is our hope that this information can be used by patients and physicians when discussing the impact of cancer treatment decisions on survival.”

Cary Gross, coauthor of the study, calls for further research, adding,

“It’s important to note that when it comes to alternative cancer therapies, there is just so little known—patients are making decisions in the dark. We need to understand more about which treatments are effective—whether we’re talking about a new type of immunotherapy or a high-dose vitamin—and which ones aren’t, so that patients can make informed decisions.”

Skyler B. Johnson, Henry S. Park, Cary P. Gross, James B. Yu
Use of Alternative Medicine for Cancer and Its Impact on Survival
Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Volume 110, Issue 1, 1 January 2018, djx145, https://doi.org/10.1093/jnci/djx145

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