I often wonder just how much I annoy people when the topic of alternative medicine (alt med) comes up. In general, if someone says something I don’t agree with, I let it slide. When it comes to alt med, however, I don’t seem to have the same restraint. It’s unfortunate really, as it comes up surprisingly often, and my position comes across as pretty extreme.
People ask “What’s the harm?”, and point out that “Even if it doesn’t do anything, people feel better having tried it”. I empathise with this position, but completely disagree. The point I try to make is that if we accept the use of alt med, we legitimize it, making people more likely to choose it over conventional medicine.
The focus of this post is cancer patients who put all their trust in alt med. While it’s true that most people use alt med alongside real medicine, the popularity of, and belief in, the alt med movement means that it is inevitable that some people will ignore mainstream medicine in favour of alternatives.
Unfortunately this does happen, and it happens regularly enough for us to study it. A few months ago, researchers from Yale published a paper looking into the outcomes for cancer patients who chose alt med over conventional treatment.