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

So-called alternative medicine (SCAM) for cancer is the title of my new book. I was informed that it has been published but, in reality, the hard copy might still take a few days until it is available (there were major problems at the proof-reading stage which caused a considerable delay). To give you a flavor of the book, allow me to show you my introduction; here it is:

 

In February 2013, my wife and I were in good spirits. I had recently retired from my post at Exeter University, and we were heading off to celebrate Danielle’s round birthday with her family in Brittany. There was just one thing that bothered us: Danielle had recurring abdominal pains. She had seen our GP in England several times about it. The last time, she had received a prescription for some antibiotics. I knew they would not help; her symptoms were not due to an infection.

After our arrival in France, things got worse, and Danielle consulted a gynaecologist at the out-patient clinic of the local hospital. More tests were ordered; an ultrasound showed an abnormality; a subsequent MRI revealed a tumour of the uterus. The gynaecologist advised to operate as soon as possible, and Danielle agreed.

The operation went well, but the gynaecologist, Dr Matthieu Jacquot, was concerned and said he had to be more radical than he had anticipated. The diagnosis was still uncertain until the results from the histology lab were in. A few days later, when we saw Dr Jacquot again, our hopes that all was fine were thoroughly dashed. He explained that Danielle had cancer of the endometrium and laid out the treatment plan which an entire team of oncologists had designed after an in-depth review of her case: a second, much more extensive operation, followed by six sessions of chemotherapy, followed by months of daily radiotherapy, followed by two sessions of brachytherapy.

Dr Jacquot could not have been more empathetic. He explained in detail what consequences all this would have. Danielle’s life would be dominated for the next year by a long series of treatments that were unpleasant to say the least. We were both shocked and close to tears.

Before arriving at a decision, we talked to friends and experts in this area. Opinions differed marginally. Two days later, we had made up her mind: we would stay in Brittany for the entire year and get Danielle treated exactly as Dr Jacquot suggested.

The second operation was much tougher than the first, but Danielle recovered well. Ten days later, she was back in our home and looked after by a nurse who came daily to change the bandages and give injections. On her third visit, the nurse broached the subject of chemotherapy which was scheduled to start soon. She explained how unpleasant it would be and what horrendous side effects Danielle was facing. Then she said: ‘You know, you don’t need to go through all this. They only pump you full with poison. There is a much better approach. Just follow the anti-cancer diet of Dr Schwartz.[1] It is natural and has no side effects. It would surely cure your cancer.’ When Danielle told me about this conversation, I informed the nurse that from now on I would myself take charge of the post-operative care of my wife and that her services were no longer required.

Today, Danielle is cancer-free. Had she listened to the nurse, she would almost certainly no longer be with us. But the lure of a ‘natural’ cancer cure with no side effects is almost irresistible. Faced with a serious diagnosis like cancer, most patients would consider any therapy that promises help without harm. Inevitably, they encounter a myriad of so-called alternative medicines (SCAMs), and many patients give SCAM a try.

In addition to Dr Schwartz’s cancer diet, there are hundreds of SCAMs that specifically target vulnerable cancer patients like Danielle. How can patients not be confused, and who might give them responsible advice? Conventional doctors rarely do. A recent summary of 29 relevant papers concluded that physicians will discuss complementary therapies only when a patient him/herself raises this issue within a consultation.[2] But cancer patients are often too embarrassed to ask about SCAM. Those who are courageous enough usually get short shrift. Many conventional doctors are not just critical about SCAM, but also know very little about the subject.[3]

Patients deserve evidence-based information, instead they often get unhelpful blanket statements from their GPs such as:

  • ‘there is no evidence’;
  • ‘that’s all rubbish, best to stay well clear of it’;
  • ‘if you want to try it, go ahead, it cannot do much harm’.

All of these are untrue. Frustrated by such erroneous platitudes, patients might go on the Internet for help where they are bombarded with uncritical promotion. We investigated the information on SCAM for cancer provided by popular websites and found that they offer information of extremely variable quality. Many endorse unproven therapies and some are outright dangerous.[4] Sadly, the advice patients might glean from newspapers[5] or health-food stores[6] tends to be equally misleading and potentially harmful.

Subsequently, some patients might visit a library and read one of the many books on the subject. If anything, they are even worse. We have repeatedly analysed the contents of consumer guides on SCAM and always concluded that following their recommendations would shorten the life of the reader.[7] To give you a flavour, here are a few titles currently on sale:

  • Cancer Medicine from Nature
  • Outsmart Your Cancer: Alternative Non-Toxic Treatments That Work
  • Cancer Medicine from Nature
  • Perfect Guide on How to Cure Breast Cancer Through Curative Approved Alkaline Diets & Herbs
  • How to Starve Cancer
  • Healing the Prostate: The Best Holistic Methods to Treat the Prostate and Other Common Male-Related Conditions
  • Outsmart Cancer: Defeat Cancer With Vitamin B17, Healthy Nutrition and Alternative Medicine

Cancer patients would, of course, all like to ‘outsmart cancer’; they are desperate and vulnerable. In this state of mind, they easily fall victim to anyone who sells false hope at inflated prices. The consequences can be tragic.

In 2016, the actress English Leah Bracknell, for example, raised ~£50 000 to treat her lung cancer in the German ‘Hallwang Private Oncology Clinic’. The SCAMs used there included homeopathy, micronutrients, natural supplements, whole-body hyperthermia, and ozone therapy, none of which cures cancer. If cancer patients fall for bogus treatments, they not just lose their money but also their lives. Leah Bracknell died of her cancer in 2019.[8]

Three basic facts are indisputably clear:

  • a high percentage of cancer patients use SCAM,
  • misinformation about SCAM is rife,
  • misinformation endangers the lives of cancer patients.

It follows that there is an obvious and urgent need for an evidence-based text naming the SCAMs that are potentially harmful and discussing those that might be helpful.

My book is aimed at doing just that.

[1] Dr Laurent Schwartz cancérologue iconoclaste — Guérir du Cancer (guerir-du-cancer.fr)

[2] Stub T, Quandt SA, Arcury TA, et al. Perception of risk and communication among conventional and complementary health care providers involving cancer patients’ use of complementary therapies: a literature review. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2016;16(1):353. Published 2016 Sep 8. doi:10.1186/s12906-016-1326-3

[3] Ziodeen KA, Misra SM. Complementary and integrative medicine attitudes and perceived knowledge in a large pediatric residency program. Complement Ther Med. 2018;37:133-135. doi:10.1016/j.ctim.2018.02.004

[4] Schmidt K, Ernst E. Assessing websites on complementary and alternative medicine for cancer. Ann Oncol. 2004;15(5):733-742. doi:10.1093/annonc/mdh174

[5] Milazzo S, Ernst E. Newspaper coverage of complementary and alternative therapies for cancer–UK 2002-2004. Support Care Cancer. 2006;14(9):885-889. doi:10.1007/s00520-006-0068-z

[6] Mills E, Ernst E, Singh R, Ross C, Wilson K. Health food store recommendations: implications for breast cancer patients. Breast Cancer Res. 2003;5(6):R170-R174. doi:10.1186/bcr636

[7] https://edzardernst.com/2013/09/drowning-in-a-sea-of-misinformation-part-8-books-on-alternative-medicine/

[8] https://edzardernst.com/2019/10/leah-blacknell-1964-2019-another-victim-of-cancer-quackery/

____________________________________________

The publication of this book is perhaps the right occasion to publicly thank two regular and one occasional contributor to this blog. I am grateful to

  • Prof. Michael Baum, emeritus professor, for writing the foreword,
  • Dr. Julian Money-Kyrle, retired consultant oncologist, for his constructive comments on chapter 1.4,
  • Richard Rasker for his corrections and advice on the entire text.

Thank you all.

7 Responses to So-called alternative medicine (SCAM) for cancer

  • Every best wish with this important endeavour, and love to Danielle.

  • Congratulations!
    Ordered before breakfast 👍

  • AS WE DON’T PUBLISH IN GERMAN, I TOOK THE LIBERTY OF TRANSLATING THIS COMMENT (ORIGINAL IS BELOW)

    From my own experience (myself affected as well as twice in my immediate/own family) I can only emphasise the above. There is no better treatment alternative to e.b. oncological therapy. therapy. The alternative is ‘only’ not to treat. Sometimes this can be the right way, but it has to be discussed individually with all the consequences.
    If necessary, I think it is important to obtain a second opinion from an oncologist who also follows an e.b. approach.
    I think it is very important to accompany the patient empathetically, ideally in a family context, an adequate therapy without any ifs and buts, last but not least complementary sports within the possibilities and circumstances as well as a good sense of humour, which always has to adapt to the situation in the sense of the above-mentioned empathy.
    I will probably not buy your book now, please forgive me, but I assume that my views are essentially reflected in it 1:1.
    Nevertheless, I am glad that you have taken up this important topic, as there is a lot of charlatanry in this field and many a cancer patient is ripped off to the hilt when real therapy is withheld.
    I would like to thank you very much for this.
    All the best to you and your wife.

    Aus eigener Erfahrung (selbst betroffen sowie 2x in der direkten/eigenen Familie) kann ich das o.g. nur unterstreichen. Es gibt keine bessere Behandlungsalternative zur e.b.-onkolog. Therapie. Die Alternative besteht ‘nur’ darin, nicht zu behandeln. Kann manchmal auch der richtige Weg sein, muss dann aber individuell mit allen Konsequenzen durchbesprochen werden.
    Für wichtig halte ich ggf. die Einholung einer Zweitmeinungsexpertise eines Onkologen, der ebenfalls einen e.b.-Ansatz verfolgt.
    Für ganz wichtig halte ich die empathische Begleitung des Pat., am besten im familiären Kontext, eine adäquate Sz.-Therapie ohne wenn und aber, nicht zuletzt komplementären Sport i.R. der Möglichkeiten u. Gegebenheiten sowie einen guten Humor, der sich der Situation halt immer i.S. der o.g. Empathie anpassen muss.
    Ich werde jetzt ihr Buch vermutlich nicht kaufen, sehen Sie es mir nach, aber ich vermute, dass sich daran meine Ansichten im Wesentlichen 1:1 wiederfinden.
    Gleichwohl bin ich aber froh, dass Sie sich dieses wichtigen Themas annehmen, da auf diesem Gebiet sehr viel Scharlatanerie betrieben und so mancher Krebspatient bei Vorenthaltung echter Therapie auch noch nach Strich u. Faden abgezockt wird.
    Dahür meinen herzlichen Dank.
    Ihnen und Ihrer Frau alles Gute.

  • All the best!!!! I hope people read this and understand the importance of life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Recent Comments

Note that comments can be edited for up to five minutes after they are first submitted but you must tick the box: “Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.”

The most recent comments from all posts can be seen here.

Archives
Categories