Our guest post for the month is about alternative therapies and that 'natural' does not equate harmless.
Receiving news of a cancer diagnosis is completely heart-wrenching. You start to feel numb as your doctor shows you the test scans that show abnormal growth of tissue. You’ve always imagined that you’ll be able to retire at an old age with your health intact. But now everything has been turned completely upside down with the diagnosis. It’s something you never imagined would happen to you.
Treatments vary depending on the type of cancer but chemotherapy – the use of drugs to kill cancer cells – is the most common. Doctors may prescribe chemo alongside with surgery or radiation therapy. While chemo targets cancerous cells it can also damage healthy cells, resulting in a host of negative side effects. Hair loss is one that most people are familiar with either from movies or personal anecdotes. Other side effects can also include nausea, fatigue, and numbness.
These are all specifics that your doctor will explain in more detail. As a cancer patient, it’s within your right to decide on what line of treatment to pursue. But one of the most dangerous fallacies you could fall for is the idea that natural cancer therapies or alternative remedies can’t hurt you. They absolutely can and in some cases can even increase the risk of death.
Here we’ll examine what the research says about alternative treatments for cancer, the costs of ignoring conventional treatment, and how you can make better informed choices.
What the research says
One of the selling points of alternative therapies is that such treatments are deemed “natural” while other treatments like chemotherapy are toxic. The rational is that alternative medicine is somehow better and safer. But actual data on the subject paints a different picture.
A comprehensive analysis published in JAMA Oncology examined data from nearly two million patients – Data from 258 patients who had used complementary medicine were compared with more than 1,000 patients who relied only on conventional treatments.
Those who had used complementary treatments like homeopathy were more likely to refuse surgery and chemotherapy. They also had lower five-year survival rates and double the risk of death.
The study, however, found that complementary medicine did no harm when it was used alongside conventional treatments. The risks that were identified were apparent when cancer patients opted out of chemotherapy and radiation entirely.
The Cost of Ignoring Treatment
The biggest risk of relying on alternative medicine is postponing or refusing conventional treatments altogether. There is usually a ‘window of opportunity’ to administer cancer treatment when the cancer is not as widespread and patients are still well enough to handle treatment. Sometimes, after trying alternative therapies and finding that their cancer is progressing, patients decide they want to have conventional treatments but they might be too unwell for it then.
Receiving a cancer diagnosis is scary. It’s only natural to want to seek out other therapies that promise no side effects but this approach can be incredibly risky. If you are interested in alternative medicine, speak with your doctor first. Sometimes there might be a way to combine both types of treatment. If you do decide to forego any recommended treatments, make sure you understand all the risks involved.
If you are interested to know more about cancer treatment options, leave your questions in the comments section below or follow us on Facebook @moretonbaycancercare for updates
I am a dual-trained Medical Oncologist and Palliative Care Physician who is passionate about empowering people living with cancer through education