The risk of alternative cancer treatments

Opting for alternative treatments instead of evidence-based ones is associated with higher death rates, according to a recent study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Opting for alternative treatments instead of evidence-based ones is associated with higher death rates, according to a recent study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Yale School of Medicine researchers examined 281 patients with potentially curable cancers of the breast, lung, colon-rectum, or prostate that had not yet spread beyond their site of origin. They found that the use of alternative medicine instead of established cancer treatments resulted in an overall death rate 2.5 times higher than the rate experienced by patients receiving standard therapies. Among women with breast cancer, choosing alternative remedies resulted in an almost sixfold increase in the chance of dying during an average follow-up period of 5.5 years. For patients with colon or rectal cancer who chose alternative treatments, the death rate was 4.5 times higher, while for those with lung cancer, the rate was twice as high. Men with prostate cancer who avoided standard treatments saw no difference in the risk of death during the follow-up period, likely due to the slow growth of prostate cancer, the researchers suggested. They stressed that alternative medicine, which they defined as "an unproven therapy that was given in place of conventional treatment," is not the same as complementary or integrative treatments, which are used as additions to standard cancer care. In a related report in JAMA Oncology, the researchers wrote that the higher death rate associated with the alternative treatments used by patients in their study was likely to have been "mediated by the refusal of conventional cancer treatment."