Alternative cancer therapies linked to earlier death

July 22, 2018

Categories: Skepticism , Tags: Pseudoscience, Cancer, CAM

A new study (opens new window) of over 1,000 cancer patients in the US has shown that a choice to use alternative therapies alongside conventional therapy leads to a higher chance of dying from cancer. This is a very important finding, and it's something that skeptics have warned about for many years.

Sellers of alternative therapies usually say publicly that they always recommend their patients continue normal therapy while they also use acupuncture, herbal remedies, etc for their medical conditions. This is especially important in the case of people who have life threatening medical conditions that can be successfully treated with conventional medicine, such as cancer. However, there are many stories in the news of people who have enough faith in their choice of alternative medicine that they decide not to use conventional therapy, or turn down some proven conventional therapies on offer - and in the worst cases, the alternative therapy practitioners actively dissuade their patients from using modern medicine.

The new study has shown that survival rates for people using alternative therapies is lower than for those not using these therapies, and that the reason for this is that people who trust in alternative therapies are more likely to say no to the proven therapies that are on offer:

34% refused chemotherapy compared to 3.2%

53% refused radiotherapy compared to 2.3%

7% refused surgery compared to 0.1%

The result of this increase was found to be a doubling of mortality rate through the nine year period that the study was conducted.

One interesting fact is the demographic of those choosing to use alternative therapies - generally healthy, young richer women.

I've read previous studies that have focused on individual diseases such as breast cancer, where use of alternative medicine has been linked to worse outcomes. It's good to have another arrow in our quiver, and I'm sure this study will end up on Tim Farley's website What's the Harm, where nonsense of all stripes is shown to be dangerous, and at times deadly.