Alternative medicine and cancer survival (Part 2)

My last blog post was about alternative medicine in cancer treatment. That piece was about patients who refuse all other treatment, and thankfully that is still a relatively rare occurrence. Usually, patients use alternative medicine alongside their regular treatment. As a result, studying patients who refuse all regular treatment isn’t necessarily the most informative thing.

Because of this distinction, researchers from Yale decided to have a look at patients who do this, and they published their results this month. It is not encouraging reading. Continue reading

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.

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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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Have we explained how acupuncture works?

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Acupuncture is a topic that divides people. It is seen by some as a little understood branch of medicine, by others simply as pseudoscience. The theory states that inserting needles at specific points can have effects on almost every ailment, from chronic pain and allergies to irritable bowel syndrome and even stroke. At present, however, there is little reliable evidence that acupuncture works any more than placebo, which makes this article from The Guardian quite unexpected:

Rats help scientists get closer to solving the mystery of acupuncture

The Guardian – 21/07/2015

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