MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

A few days ago, the German TV ‘FACT’ broadcast a film (it is in German, the bit on homeopathy starts at ~min 20) about a young woman who had her breast cancer first operated but then decided to forfeit subsequent conventional treatments. Instead she chose homeopathy which she received from Dr Jens Wurster at the ‘Clinica Sta Croce‘ in Lucano/Switzerland.

Elsewhere Dr Wurster stated this: Contrary to chemotherapy and radiation, we offer a therapy with homeopathy that supports the patient’s immune system. The basic approach of orthodox medicine is to consider the tumor as a local disease and to treat it aggressively, what leads to a weakening of the immune system. However, when analyzing all studies on cured cancer cases it becomes evident that the immune system is always the decisive factor. When the immune system is enabled to recognize tumor cells, it will also be able to combat them… When homeopathic treatment is successful in rebuilding the immune system and reestablishing the basic regulation of the organism then tumors can disappear again. I’ve treated more than 1000 cancer patients homeopathically and we could even cure or considerably ameliorate the quality of life for several years in some, advanced and metastasizing cases.

The recent TV programme showed a doctor at this establishment confirming that homeopathy alone can cure cancer. Dr Wurster (who currently seems to be a star amongst European homeopaths) is seen lecturing at the 2017 World Congress of Homeopathic Physicians in Leipzig and stating that a ‘particularly rigorous study’ conducted by conventional scientists (the senior author is Harald Walach!, hardly a conventional scientist in my book) proved homeopathy to be effective for cancer. Specifically, he stated that this study showed that ‘homeopathy offers a great advantage in terms of quality of life even for patients suffering from advanced cancers’.

This study did, of course, interest me. So, I located it and had a look. Here is the abstract:

BACKGROUND:

Many cancer patients seek homeopathy as a complementary therapy. It has rarely been studied systematically, whether homeopathic care is of benefit for cancer patients.

METHODS:

We conducted a prospective observational study with cancer patients in two differently treated cohorts: one cohort with patients under complementary homeopathic treatment (HG; n = 259), and one cohort with conventionally treated cancer patients (CG; n = 380). For a direct comparison, matched pairs with patients of the same tumour entity and comparable prognosis were to be formed. Main outcome parameter: change of quality of life (FACT-G, FACIT-Sp) after 3 months. Secondary outcome parameters: change of quality of life (FACT-G, FACIT-Sp) after a year, as well as impairment by fatigue (MFI) and by anxiety and depression (HADS).

RESULTS:

HG: FACT-G, or FACIT-Sp, respectively improved statistically significantly in the first three months, from 75.6 (SD 14.6) to 81.1 (SD 16.9), or from 32.1 (SD 8.2) to 34.9 (SD 8.32), respectively. After 12 months, a further increase to 84.1 (SD 15.5) or 35.2 (SD 8.6) was found. Fatigue (MFI) decreased; anxiety and depression (HADS) did not change. CG: FACT-G remained constant in the first three months: 75.3 (SD 17.3) at t0, and 76.6 (SD 16.6) at t1. After 12 months, there was a slight increase to 78.9 (SD 18.1). FACIT-Sp scores improved significantly from t0 (31.0 – SD 8.9) to t1 (32.1 – SD 8.9) and declined again after a year (31.6 – SD 9.4). For fatigue, anxiety, and depression, no relevant changes were found. 120 patients of HG and 206 patients of CG met our criteria for matched-pairs selection. Due to large differences between the two patient populations, however, only 11 matched pairs could be formed. This is not sufficient for a comparative study.

CONCLUSION:

In our prospective study, we observed an improvement of quality of life as well as a tendency of fatigue symptoms to decrease in cancer patients under complementary homeopathic treatment. It would take considerably larger samples to find matched pairs suitable for comparison in order to establish a definite causal relation between these effects and homeopathic treatment.

_________________________________________________________________

Even the abstract makes several points very clear, and the full text confirms further embarrassing details:

  • The patients in this study received homeopathy in addition to standard care (the patient shown in the film only had homeopathy until it was too late, and she subsequently died, aged 33).
  • The study compared A+B with B alone (A=homeopathy, B= standard care). It is hardly surprising that the additional attention of A leads to an improvement in quality of life. It is arguably even unethical to conduct a clinical trial to demonstrate such an obvious outcome.
  • The authors of this paper caution that it is not possible to conclude that a causal relationship between homeopathy and the outcome exists.
  • This is true not just because of the small sample size, but also because of the fact that the two groups had not been allocated randomly and therefore are bound to differ in a whole host of variables that have not or cannot be measured.
  • Harald Walach, the senior author of this paper, held a position which was funded by Heel, Baden-Baden, one of Germany’s largest manufacturer of homeopathics.
  • The H.W.& J.Hector Foundation, Germany, and the Samueli Institute, provided the funding for this study.

In the film, one of the co-authors of this paper, the oncologist HH Bartsch from Freiburg, states that Dr Wurster’s interpretation of this study is ‘dishonest’.

I am inclined to agree.

10 Responses to Homeopathy for cancer: Dr Wurster and the ‘Clinica Sta Croce’ in Switzerland

  • The only question that remains is then… gaol or asylum?

  • While we’re not on the subject, can anyone tell me exactly what the phrase ‘FDA approved’ means in relation to hyperthermia and cancer treatment( something its fans boast about on the weird Cancer Tutor website)?

  • Although this TV clip conveys a negative image when homeopathy is used for cancer treatment, I much dislike the comment of the TV presenter introducing the clip, who indirectly suggests that homeopathy could be a “pragmatic” treatment option and could “help” to treat less serious health problems. Instead, it should be clearly pointed out that no evidence exists whatsoever that homeopathy has ANY specific effect.
    Regarding Dr. Wurster, this charlatan appears to be a particular smug pr*ck, even insinuating that critique of his cancer treatment is made up by the media (“fake”).

  • Pardon my amateur’s ignorance, but doesn’t the concept of “matched pairs” create mini-studies to be cherry-picked for marketing of this ludicrous woo?

    To build on James’ first comment, surely it’s appropriate for legal arrangements for the confiscation of assets acquired from such nefarious professions.

    • matched pair comparisons are supposed to use comparable groups – and they do. but only for variables that were used in the matching protocol. many other variables will differ, and some of them might impact on the outcomes.

  • Just when I thought I had seen it all, this excrement popped up, to let us know how we can create homeopathic remedies by speaking to water.

    In the book, it is stated clearly for a specific preparation:

    […]. The preparation can be successfully combined with Ignatia amara, which is the main medicine for mental shock of any kind. Not 24 accidentally, in some homeopathic schools the Ignatia is called the “cemetery” medicine. However, this is the preparation that can protect you from serious diseases resulting from emotional shock: diabetes, Hashimoto’s syndrome (autoimmune thyroid disease), ischemic heart disease, severe depression, multiple sclerosis, cancer.

    (no emphasis in the original text)

    The craziest of homeopaths out there always have “cancer” somewhere in their rambling dictionary. And most always have a tiny-letter disclaimer at the bottom end of their (hocus) opus:

    This site is for information only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.
    Nothing on this site is a recommendation as to how to treat any particular disease or health-related condition.
    Not all conditions will respond to homeopathic treatment.

    Yeah, right! Nothing is a recommendation as to how to treat any particular disease. Cancer, diabetes, ischemic heart disease, not particular at all.

  • A Miranda warning.

    (Akin to a cop reading you your rights when arresting you. Check it out – unless you already have experience!)

  • In Germany, Dr. Jens Behnke of the Carstens Foundation for Nature and Medicine (one of the great lobbyists of homeopathy) announced that he had filed an official programme complaint against the broadcaster MDR. He reproaches the broadcaster for depriving its viewers of a scientifically sound basis for cancer treatment with homeopathy. He believes that the station had not fulfilled its duty of balanced reporting.
    Perhaps he would rather not wish the station to make a well-founded contribution to his “scientific foundations”.

  • Well, this “study” by Rostock et al. is one thing to illustrate the nature of homeopathy research.

    Please observe: they could not find enough matches to provide meaningful results. So they they made do with comparing the coherts in total. And here is the thing:

    Homeopathy group:
    – average 56 years of age
    – expensive private clinic high in the Alps with a nice view on Lago Maggiore
    – I guess decent food goes with it
    – 10 months after first diagnosis
    – 20 % undercoing chemotherapy

    Placebo group:
    – average 60 years of age
    – ordinary local hospital (many participants were recruited in the Orthenau-Klinik at Offenburg)
    – I guess ordinary hospital food
    – 3 months after first diagnosis
    – 65 % undergoing chemotherapy

    Do you really need a study to conclude that quality of life (the main outcome) is higher with the homeopathy-group?

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