Death rates far higher for 'alternative' cancer cures: study

August 18, 2017

People who choose alternative cures for common cancers are up to five times more likely to die compared to those opting for standard treatments, the lead scientist of a new study told AFP Friday.

The risk of death five years after diagnosis "was highest for breast and ," said lead author Skyler Johnson from the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut—5.6 and 4.6 times greater respectively.

Lung cancer patients who spurned surgery, radiation or chemotherapy in favour of herbs and vitamin, homoeopathy, special diets or other unorthodox therapies were more than twice as likely to die over the same period, he reported last week in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Five-year survival rates for remained high—around 90 percent—for both conventional and alternative treatments, but this was not necessarily evidence that the alternative therapies were as effective.

"Prostate cancer usually grows very slowly in the early stages so few people die," Johnson explained by email.

Faced with poor prognoses or painful courses of chemotherapy, which can cause severe nausea and weakness, many cancer patients place their faith in a wide range of treatments dismissed by most medical doctors as useless at best.

These include probiotics, vitamins and minerals; traditional Indian and Chinese methods such as Ayurvedic medicine and acupuncture; homoeopathy and naturopathy; chiropractic or osteopathic manipulation; as well as yoga, Tai Qi and Qi Gong, all of which involve breath control.

Mind-over-matter approaches also include prayer, meditation, and guided imagery, in which one visualises one's cancer in order to overcome it.

Researchers led by Johnson identified 281 people in the United States with the four most common types of cancer—breast, prostate, lung and colon—who turned towards one or more of these unproven treatments when diagnosed.

The team compared their health outcomes with those of 560 other of comparable age, also taking into account race and different health factors.

On average, the first group were 2.5 times more likely to die within five years of diagnosis.

"For several reasons, I believe this may be an underestimate," Johnson told AFP.

To begin with, the data only covered only initial treatment, which means that some of the patients who first sought out alternative cures may have switched to standard treatments as their disease progressed, thus prolonging their lives.

It is also likely, he added, that the non-conventional medicine cohort was heathier, younger and had higher income and education—attributes that translate into better survival rates.

"We don't know the exact number of people that make the decision to pursue alternative medicine instead of conventional cancer treatment," Johnson said.

Patients are reluctant to confide in doctors who are likely to frown upon their choices, he added.

But, he noted, all the miracle cures on offer probably add up to a multi-billion dollar business.

Explore further: Using alternative medicine only for cancer linked to lower survival rate

Related Stories

Using alternative medicine only for cancer linked to lower survival rate

August 10, 2017
Patients who choose to receive alternative therapy as treatment for curable cancers instead of conventional cancer treatment have a higher risk of death, according to researchers from the Cancer Outcomes, Public Policy and ...

Among all cancers, lung cancer appears to put patients at greatest suicide risk

May 23, 2017
A lung cancer diagnosis appears to put patients at the greatest risk of suicide when compared to the most common types of non-skin cancers, according to new research presented at the ATS 2017 International Conference.

Second, unrelated malignancies strike 1 in 12 cancer patients

July 11, 2016
(HealthDay)—A new study indicates that 8 percent of patients—or one in 12—already diagnosed with one form of cancer will develop a second unrelated malignancy. The findings were published online July 5 in Cancer.

Radiation therapy and radical prostatectomy further explored for initial diagnosis of advanced prostate cancer

September 26, 2016
A database study examining surgical removal of the prostate gland (radical prostatectomy) or a form of radiation therapy known as IMRT to treat prostate cancer that has spread to other parts of the body (metastatic) shows ...

Male cancer patients turn to alternative treatments

December 13, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- More than 50% of men diagnosed with cancer in Australia are turning to complementary and alternative medicine to help find a cure, or to improve their health, according to new research from the University ...

Findings suggest overuse of chemotherapy among younger patients with colon cancer

January 25, 2017
Young and middle-aged patients with colon cancer are nearly 2 to 8 times more likely to receive postoperative chemotherapy than older patients, yet study results suggest no added survival benefit for these patients, according ...

Recommended for you

Clinical trial suggests new cell therapy for relapsed leukemia patients

November 20, 2017
A significant proportion of children and young adults with treatment-resistant B-cell leukemia who participated in a small study achieved remission with the help of a new form of gene therapy, according to researchers at ...

Researchers discover a new target for 'triple-negative' breast cancer

November 20, 2017
So-called "triple-negative" breast cancer is a particularly aggressive and difficult-to-treat form. It accounts for only about 10 percent of breast cancer cases, but is responsible for about 25 percent of breast cancer fatalities.

Study reveals new mechanism used by cancer cells to disarm attacking immune cells

November 20, 2017
A new study by researchers at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center - James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC - James) identifies a substance released by pancreatic cancer cells that protects ...

Cell-weighing method could help doctors choose cancer drugs

November 20, 2017
Doctors have many drugs available to treat multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer. However, there is no way to predict, by genetic markers or other means, how a patient will respond to a particular drug. This can lead to ...

Lung cancer triggers pulmonary hypertension

November 17, 2017
Shortness of breath and respiratory distress often increase the suffering of advanced-stage lung cancer patients. These symptoms can be triggered by pulmonary hypertension, as scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Heart ...

Researchers discover an Achilles heel in a lethal leukemia

November 16, 2017
Researchers have discovered how a linkage between two proteins in acute myeloid leukemia enables cancer cells to resist chemotherapy and showed that disrupting the linkage could render the cells vulnerable to treatment. St. ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.