“But it works… I read it on the internet!”
You may remember my article entitled The trouble with the NET (Part 1) which was a lighthearted but still serious discussion about the dangers of self-treatment on the internet. Linked to that blog was a very popular article written by the scientists at Cancer Research UK debunking some cancer myths which seem to regularly patrol the NET and social media.
Many well meaning people will send you articles they saw on the ‘NET’ about this and that treatment which claims to cure cancer. They also post them on social media increasing the reach to thousands of people, some of whom are not in the right frame of mind to see the risks. The vast majority of these ‘suggestions’ will be lacking in any proper and formal scientific research and there is normally a product or book for sale attached to the link. In some instances, these ‘miracle cures’ can actually be dangerous for some.
In a follow on article, Cancer Research UK warns of the risks in Alternative Therapies which is written in a similar vein. I pay great attention to what these guys say. I know from my association with their research capability, that they take an evidence based approach and do not publish these things lightly. Please note Alternative Therapy is not the same as Complementary Therapy. Alternative therapy is something used instead of conventional approved treatment, complementary therapy is something used in addition to conventional approved treatment. Nonetheless, any therapy which is not approved can be dangerous to cancer patients.
One bonus and very interesting aspect of their article is that they discuss the Steve Jobs issue of initially opting for alternative treatment rather than conventional, excellently making the point that he did not have Pancreatic Cancer, rather he had a Neuroendocrine Tumour (NET). We all know this, but many newspapers, magazines, TV commentators and bloggers frequently get this wrong.
One of the big selling points advocates of alternative therapies use is to claim that conventional treatments are ’toxic’ while their favoured treatment is ‘natural’, implying that natural is somehow better. In analysis, that is a fallacy. It’s easy to get sucked into promises of ‘cures’ and ‘remission’ by using herbal remedies, diets, potent supplement, etc (the list of endless). However, if these things really worked, all Oncologists, specialists and major cancer centres would be advising this too.
“But it works… I read it in the news!”
Stories in the news about alternative therapies are usually framed in the words of a single patient talking about their own cancer journey. But this is neither scientific proof nor any kind of guarantee that a treatment is effective or safe. People pushing alternative therapies frequently wheel out stories from ‘survivors’ who are apparently alive due to their treatments, yet without providing solid evidence to prove it is true, solid evidence that the actual ‘miracle’ drug was the reason for the improvement rather than something else of a previous or concurrent conventional treatment. This raises false hope and unrealistic expectations that there is a hidden miracle cure that can be unlocked for the right price, or by eating exactly the right foods.
Those selling and promoting alternative treatments rarely discuss the risks, especially the biggest risk of all – missing that small window of opportunity to hit a cancer with the best conventional (and proven) treatment possible.
There’s another article here where a study confirms people who opt for alternative therapy die sooner than those who don’t – read here.
You may also be interested in reading Part 3 of this series where I discuss the FDA clampdown on bogus claims made by those sharing ‘miracle cures’ and what to look out for when you find this sort of thing in your inbox or social media feed.
And in Part 4, I underscore the risks of believing what you read – “Cancer kills but so can fake cures” – click here
Be careful out there – it’s dangerous.
You may also like my Neuroendocrine Cancer myths articles – click here