The trouble with the NET (Part 2) – Alternative Therapies – what’s the harm?

But it works, I read it on the internet!
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“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.

random treatment on the internet
Graphic courtesy of Emily McDowell Studio

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  I know from my association with their research capability, that they take an evidence based approach and do not publish these things lightly.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.

A UK newspaper ran a story of what can happen if you forego conventional treatment and try alternative instead.  This is one example but there are clearly many more and ASCO touched on this above.

After her breast cancer diagnosis, Katie Britton-Jordan began a raw, vegan diet and visited an alternative clinic in Mexico. The mother of one died aged 38
“Britton-Jordan was an intelligent woman with a long-standing interest in alternative therapies, who made a decision based on her beliefs. But doctors are becoming increasingly concerned at the targeting of vulnerable cancer patients by charlatans peddling well-meaning but useless therapies– a problem that is gathering pace thanks to the use of social media and drawing parallels with the newly emboldened anti-vaccination movement“.

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.

“Certain popular ideas about how cancer starts and spreads – though scientifically wrong, can seem to make sense, especially when those ideas are rooted in old theories. To a certain extent, it can be the case with treatment too. But wrong ideas about cancer can lead to needless worry and even hinder good prevention and treatment decisions”

Part 1 – Cancer Myths click here

“But it works… a friend of a friend put it on Facebook”

Part 3 – Miracle Curesclick here

miracle cure banner

“Hope is great, false hope is not”

Part 4 – Cancer Kills but so can Fake Cures – click here

In here I have provided links to trustworthy sources on some of the comments I see in patient groups.

Part 5 – Cancer Food Myths – click here

The ‘NET’ can spread ……..  false hope

Part 6 – The trouble with the NET is that it can spread ……. false hopeclick here

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Ronny

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