Alternative medicine and cancer survival

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.

Alt med banner smaller

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.

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Disparities in cancer survival

In my last post I published some good news about cancer survival rates, so I thought it was important to highlight a big problem with our recent success against this disease. This issue is flagged up in a study published at the end of January.

It addresses the fact that the gains we have made in cancer diagnosis and treatment are very unevenly spread around the world. To analyze this is greater detail, the scientists studied the differences in survival in different countries, and the results are somewhat predictable.

If, for example, you are an Australian or American with breast cancer, you have a 90% chance of surviving. If you are Indian however, you only have a 66% chance.

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Ultra-processed foods and cancer

This story was all over the news today:

“Ultra-processed foods may be linked to cancer, says study”

The Guardian, 15th Feb. 2018

The news comes from a French study that looked into whether cancer was associated with highly processed foods. As usual, the question is whether the actual results of the study warrant the hysteria currently playing out in the media? (Spoiler: the answer to that is almost always an emphatic NO!) Continue reading

Vitamin supplements: unexpected consequences

Over the last number of years, the vitamin and nutritional supplement market has grown phenomenally. It is estimated to be worth over $36 billion in the US, up from $17 billion in 2000. It is thought that nearly 70% of the US population take some kind of dietary supplement, and there is much said and written about their use. One thing that cannot be debated however, is the lack of evidence that they do any good. A prime example of this comes from a study published recently about vitamin B supplements. Continue reading

Anti-obesity campaigning and stigmatization

Last year Cancer Research UK launched the latest campaign aimed at reducing obesity related cancers. This is an important issue, with obesity now being recognised as the second biggest preventable cause of cancer, behind only smoking. The evidence for this is extremely solid, and it is expected to cause an additional 15,000 deaths in the UK from cancer this year alone. And the numbers are increasing steadily. In the 20 years from 1993 to 2013, the number of people classed as overweight or obese in the UK increased by 6 million.

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