MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

It has been estimated that 40 – 70% of all cancer patients use some form of alternative medicine; may do so in the hope this might cure their condition. A recent article by Turkish researchers – yet again – highlights how dangerous such behaviour can turn out to be.

The authors report the cases of two middle-aged women suffering from malignant breast masses. The patients experienced serious complications in response to self-prescribed use of alternative medicine practices to treat their condition in lieu of evidence-based medical treatments. In both cases, the use and/or inappropriate application of alternative medical approaches promoted the progression of malignant fungating lesions in the breast. The first patient sought medical assistance upon development of a fungating lesion, 7∼8 cm in diameter and involving 1/3 of the breast, with a palpable mass of 5×6 cm immediately beneath the wound. The second patient sought medical assistance after developing of a wide, bleeding, ulcerous area with patchy necrotic tissue that comprised 2/3 of the breast and had a 10×6 cm palpable mass under the affected area.

The authors argue that the use of some non-evidence-based medical treatments as complementary to evidence-based medical treatments may benefit the patient on an emotional level; however, this strategy should be used with caution, as the non-evidence-based therapies may cause physical harm or even counteract the evidence-based treatment.

Their conclusions: a malignant, fungating wound is a serious complication of advanced breast cancer. It is critical that the public is informed about the potential problems of self-treating wounds such as breast ulcers and masses. Additionally, campaigns are needed to increase awareness of the risks and life-threatening potential of using non-evidence-based medical therapies exclusively.

I have little to add to this; perhaps just a further reminder that the risk extends, of course, to all serious conditions: even a seemingly harmless but ineffective therapy can become positively life-threatening, if it is used as an alternative to an effective treatment. I am sure that some ‘alternativists’ will claim that I am alarmist; but I am also convinced that they are wrong.

12 Responses to The biggest danger of alternative medicine

  • Oh, yes, sure. Cancer removed with sugar globuli….what a tenderness!
    Homeopaths are used to jokewith death, pain, suffering people, disease, sickness, illness…An example?
    The Ochsner Journal recently published a paper where some Authors succesfully treated two cases of fulminant hepatic failure (FHF), caused by Amanita poisoning, by homeopathic remedies. The article (Frass M, Zagorchev P, Yurukova V, Wulkersdorfer B, Thieves K, Zedtwitz-Liebenstein K, Bursch W, Kaye AD. Two Cases of Fulminant Hepatic Failure from Amanita phalloides Poisoning Treated Additively by Homeopathy. Ochsner J. 2014 Summer;14(2):252-8) is bewildering in its claims, as the Authors stated that, while treated patients survived, who did not undergo homeopathy treatment died. Misfortune? Homeopathy was simply ADDED to conventional therapy. This is one of the grossest bias concerning this shoddy therapy based on diluted tap water. The reported cases survived and never entered the orthotopic liver transplantation decision but THANKS to othodox therapy!. Thanks to homeopathy? For goodness sake, shut up, please, you get funny!
    When published, on the forthcoming issue of The Ochsner Journal (accepted paper), please, read my (polite) answer to this far-out hoax.
    Homeopaths: why are you kidding patients?

  • Such cases are unfortunately underreported in the medical literature. Here is a blogpost of ours on a few additional case series: http://anaximperator.wordpress.com/2012/08/08/there-is-no-time-to-wait-for-alternative-cancer-therapy-to-work/

    You are demonstrably not an alarmist.

  • Yes, I have always said that treating cancer should always be left to a fully trained oncology specialist at one of the leading cancer research centers, who BTW, can’t cure cancer.

    The 40 year war on cancer clearly has failed. No cures yet. Survival rates are still abysmally and frighteningly low. Some progress in testicular and some lymphomas, but otherwise more people than ever are being diagnosed with cancer and more people than ever are dying from it. Depending on where you go for treatment, and in what part of the world you live in, is what determines what cancer treatment you are going to receive. This is quite frightening.

    Nothing wrong with surgery, it can be very life-saving. It is the chemo and radiation that has no standards and no science behind it. Surveys of MDs have shown that 75% of them would not undergo chemotherapy or radiation themselves and would not recommend it for their families.

    Not a good sign.

    • ScepdocProf citing the loony sites once again. Fortunately there are sound and sensible people who bother to explain the truth.
      Of course doctors choose chemotherapy and radiation when that is the best treatment for them, for example for breast cancer which is frequently cured nowadays. It is no fun having a foul smelling, suppurating, bleeding cancer on your chest when you could have had a chance at cure. I have seen such cases. Doctors usually know what is likely to work and also what definitelydoesn’t work.

    • First, prior to declaring that there ae no cures, you should have known that cancer is a wide group of different diseases, so
      And do not exaggerate about survival! Chances of being cured are, for example, excellent in the absolute majority of thyroid cancers, majority of breast cancers (of course, not in case in fungating or necrotic wounds), the biggest problem most non-melanoma skin cancers cause is cosmetic defect …. Head and neck cancers, endometrial cancers, bladder cancers, bowel cancers (as long as people do not waste time on CAM) – successful treatment is a norm and not exception.
      And what is more important, science is learning and plenty of breast cancers and absolute majority of the prostate cancers are just observed, at least in Europe, to save patient from unnecessary intervention.

    • And why people like you, with your inappropriate name (because you are uninformed, instead of skeptical) forget (?) to mention that such surveys (you have not indicated date etc. of this one) usually are interested about very advanced cases? When it is pretty obvious that radiation and chemo will prolong life for a short period of time?

    • “Survival rates are still abysmally and frighteningly low”. Wrong
      “Some progress in testicular and some lymphomas” and Luekaemia, prostate, melanoma, and breast cancers
      “more people than ever are being diagnosed with cancer and more people than ever are dying from it” Derp, because there are more people, not treatment failure
      “Depending on where you go for treatment, and in what part of the world you live in, is what determines what cancer treatment you are going to receive”. In other startling news, the sky is blue
      “This is quite frightening” True, that such ignorance can reside in one person

      “Nothing wrong with surgery, it can be very life-saving”. True
      It is the chemo and radiation that has no standards and no science behind it.” Wrong!
      “Surveys of MDs have shown that 75% of them would not undergo chemotherapy or radiation themselves and would not recommend it for their families” What surveys?

  • So Edzard writes an article about 2 patients self prescribing for what are obviously serious conditions. No mention of homeopathy but along comes an ‘expert’ to link it all to Homeopaths.
    Salavtore evens posts a paper which appears to favour homeopathy where 5 of the the authors are highly qualified medical experts from Austria, Bulgaria, Germany and the USA. These weren’t homeopaths sneaking a trial past an ethics committee. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot!
    ‘Homeopaths:Why are you kidding patients?’ screams Salvatore even though no homeopath was involved in these blog post cases.
    Come on you bored again sceptics you can surely do better than Salvatore to bridge this blog post to homeopaths.
    Give me a laugh and make something up Andy.

    • So Edzard writes an article about 2 patients self prescribing for what are obviously serious conditions.

      Nope. The article about the two patients was written by Sami Akbulut, Yusuf Yagmur, Serdar Gumus, Mehmet Babur, and Mehmet Ali Can, as you would have seen if you had bothered reading it. In fact, if you had even bothered to read Edzard’s post you would have seen that it was described as “a recent article by Turkish researchers”.

  • Sorry Mojo. I wrote ‘article’ instead of ‘blog post’. Not everyone would have come to the conclusion that I was implying that Edzard had come out of retirement to do this research. However technically you have scored a rare point.
    Congratulations but it doesn’t change anything Salvatore wrote.

    • You have obviously not read the paper Salvatore point to – “favour homeopathy” can not be deduced in case reports… You also state that the authors “weren’t homeopaths” but at least 2 of the authors have “homeopathic” affiliatiions…
      Although I agree with your statement that the blog had nothing to do with homeopathy, your statements that Salvatore “shooting [himself] in the foot” seems overconfident – perhaps it is homeopathically potentized…

  • I saw in the conclusion ‘we suggest that adjunctive homeopathic treatment has a role in the treatment of acute Amanita phalloides-induced toxicity following mushroom poisoning’. Now this to a Grumpycat ‘appears to favour homeopathy.’ Obviously in your Happycat expert opinion this conclusion means something else. Well good for you.
    However, If I was a bored again sceptic wanting to bridge Edzards blog post to homeopathy I wouldn’t have brought up that particular trial.
    Yeah-I think 4 of the 6 authors were non homeopath medical researchers. Two were homeopaths So what?

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