People who use homeopathy, herbal remedies and other alternative therapies as part of their cancer treatment are, on average, twice as likely to die from the disease as those who use conventional treatment only, a study has shown.
This is because cancer patients using complementary therapies were much more likely to refuse some or all recommended treatment. This resulted in a much poorer prognosis, Yale University researchers found.
Complementary medicine covers a wide range of trends and traditions of scientifically unproven value as cancer treatments. These include Chinese herbal medicine and homeopathy, dietary supplements, cleanse diets, yoga, and massage.
The side effects of cancer treatment can be harrowing, including nausea, joint pain, fatigue and infertility. All patients face a decision about balancing quality of life with the best chances of survival.
Studies have shown some alternative therapies, including massage and acupuncture, can improve quality of life and wellbeing. Patients are coping with conventional treatment side effects, and also help patients relax or feel in control. Between 48 and 88 per cent of patients are thought to use complementary therapy as an element of their treatment.
However, studies have also suggested many patients believe such alternative treatments will also help their survival prospects.
Unfortunately, there is a great deal of confusion about the role of complementary therapies,” said Dr Skyler Johnson, lead author of the new study, published on 19 July in the Journal of the American Medical Association Oncology.
“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.”
These side-effects and mistrust of major pharmaceutical companies can make the benefits of alternative therapies seem like a credible option for some patients.