Study: Cancer patients who choose alternative treatments ‘twice as likely’ to die

Patients who choose alternative remedies, like traditional Chinese medicine and homeopathy, are more likely to opt out of additional conventional cancer treatments.


A new study shows that cancer patients who chose alternative remedies alongside conventional treatments were twice as likely to die from the disease.

The study showed that patients who chose alternative remedies, like traditional Chinese medicine and homeopathy, were more likely to pick and choose from conventional cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and surgery, likely figuring that their alternative treatments would fill in the gaps. But in many cases, the decision to opt out of additional conventional treatments seemed to prove fatal.

However, patients who chose alternative treatments while also adhering to conventional treatments showed no greater risk of dying.

“Unfortunately, there is a great deal of confusion about the role of complementary therapies,” Skyler Johnson, lead author of the new study, told The Independent. “Although they may be used to support patients experiencing symptoms from cancer treatment, it looks as though they are either being marketed, or understood to be effective [as] cancer treatments.”

Alternative remedies can still be useful. The study, published in JAMA Oncology, notes that between 48 and 88 percent of cancer patients choose a complementary regimen of both conventional and alternative treatments, which can also include probiotics, Tai Chi, meditation, specialized diets and prayer.


Acupuncture. (Credit: Pixabay commons)

Complementary treatments comprise a multi-billion-dollar industry, one that’s been booming in recent years.

“Its growth has been attributed to its increased availability and marketing as well as congruence with patients’ beliefs, values, and philosophies regarding their health, especially the desire for direct self-autonomy,” the study authors wrote.

Alternative treatments can improve a cancer patient’s quality of life and help them feel more hopeful, but there’s no evidence to suggest they can battle cancer. Regardless, about one-third of cancer patients said they believed alternative treatments could cure cancer, while two-thirds said the treatments could prolong life.

The study, which analyzed the cancer history of 1,290 patients, found that cancer patients who chose more alternative over conventional treatments tended to be women who were young, educated, of a higher socioeconomic status, and, interestingly, lived in the Pacific or Intermountain West regions of the United States.

“This finding, again, is consistent with prior literature that noted ‘the high concentration of CAM [complementary and alternative medicine] schools in these States, State legislation favoring CAM, and the high concentration of immigrants in these states who may be using CAM.’”

The researchers said it’s important doctors have open discussions about alternative remedies with patients.

“Given the hesitance on behalf of patients to disclose nonmedical therapy to their clinicians, health care professionals need to be proactive in discussing CM [complementary medicine] and adherence to conventional medicine treatment with their patients,” they wrote.

Befriend your ideological opposite. It’s fun.

Step inside the unlikely friendship of a former ACLU president and an ultra-conservative Supreme Court Justice.

Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Former president of the ACLU Nadine Strossen and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia were unlikely friends. They debated each other at events all over the world, and because of that developed a deep and rewarding friendship – despite their immense differences.
  • Scalia, a famous conservative, was invited to circles that were not his "home territory", such as the ACLU, to debate his views. Here, Strossen expresses her gratitude and respect for his commitment to the exchange of ideas.
  • "It's really sad that people seem to think that if you disagree with somebody on some issues you can't be mutually respectful, you can't enjoy each other's company, you can't learn from each other and grow in yourself," says Strossen.
  • The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles Koch Foundation, which encourages the expression of diverse viewpoints within a culture of civil discourse and mutual respect.
Keep reading Show less

3 ways to find a meaningful job, or find purpose in the job you already have

Learn how to redesign your job for maximum reward.

Videos
  • Broaching the question "What is my purpose?" is daunting – it's a grandiose idea, but research can make it a little more approachable if work is where you find your meaning. It turns out you can redesign your job to have maximum purpose.
  • There are 3 ways people find meaning at work, what Aaron Hurst calls the three elevations of impact. About a third of the population finds meaning at an individual level, from seeing the direct impact of their work on other people. Another third of people find their purpose at an organizational level. And the last third of people find meaning at a social level.
  • "What's interesting about these three elevations of impact is they enable us to find meaning in any job if we approach it the right way. And it shows how accessible purpose can be when we take responsibility for it in our work," says Hurst.
Keep reading Show less

Physicist advances a radical theory of gravity

Erik Verlinde has been compared to Einstein for completely rethinking the nature of gravity.

Photo by Willeke Duijvekam
Surprising Science
  • The Dutch physicist Erik Verlinde's hypothesis describes gravity as an "emergent" force not fundamental.
  • The scientist thinks his ideas describe the universe better than existing models, without resorting to "dark matter".
  • While some question his previous papers, Verlinde is reworking his ideas as a full-fledged theory.
Keep reading Show less

UPS has been discreetly using self-driving trucks to deliver cargo

TuSimple, an autonomous trucking company, has also engaged in test programs with the United States Postal Service and Amazon.


PAUL RATJE / Contributor
Technology & Innovation
  • This week, UPS announced that it's working with autonomous trucking startup TuSimple on a pilot project to deliver cargo in Arizona using self-driving trucks.
  • UPS has also acquired a minority stake in TuSimple.
  • TuSimple hopes its trucks will be fully autonomous — without a human driver — by late 2020, though regulatory questions remain.
Keep reading Show less