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

In 2007, we published a systematic review summarizing the efficacy of homeopathic remedies used as a sole or additional therapy in cancer care. We have searched the literature using the databases: Amed (from 1985); CINHAL (from 1982); EMBASE (from 1974); Medline (from 1951); and CAMbase (from 1998). Randomized and non-randomized controlled clinical trials including patients with cancer or past experience of cancer receiving single or combined homeopathic interventions were included. The methodological quality of the trials was assessed by Jadad score. Six studies met our inclusion criteria (five were randomized clinical trials and one was a non-randomized study); but the methodological quality was variable including some high-standard studies. Our analysis of published literature on homeopathy thus found insufficient evidence to support the clinical efficacy of homeopathic therapy in cancer care.

Meanwhile, more trials have emerged, not least a dubious study by Frass et al which is currently under investigation. This means that a new evaluation of the totality of the available evidence might be called for. I am pleased to report that such an assessment has just been published.

In this systematic review, the researchers included clinical studies from 1800 until 2020 to evaluate evidence of the effectiveness of homeopathy on physical and mental conditions in patients during oncological treatment.

In February 2021 a systematic search was conducted searching five electronic databases (Embase, Cochrane, PsychInfo, CINAHL, and Medline) to find studies concerning the use, effectiveness, and potential harm of homeopathy in cancer patients.

From all 1352 search results, 18 studies with 2016 patients were included in this SR. The patients treated with homeopathy were mainly diagnosed with breast cancer. The therapy concepts include single and combination homeopathic remedies (used systemically or as mouth rinses) of various dilutions. Outcomes assessed were the influence on toxicity of cancer treatment (mostly hot flashes and menopausal symptoms), time to drain-removal in breast cancer patients after mastectomy, survival, quality of life, global health and subjective well-being, anxiety, and depression as well as safety and tolerance.

The included studies reported heterogeneous results: some studies described significant differences in quality of life or toxicity of cancer treatment favoring homeopathy, whereas others did not find an effect or reported significant differences to the disadvantage of homeopathy or side effects caused by homeopathy. The majority of the studies have low methodological quality.

The authors concluded that, for homeopathy, there is neither a scientifically based hypothesis of its mode of action nor conclusive evidence from clinical studies in cancer care.

I predict that, if we wait another 15 years, we will have even more studies. I also predict that some of them will be less than reliable or even fake. Finally, I predict that the overall result will still be mixed and unconvincing.

Why can I be so sure?

  1. Because homeopathy lacks biological plausibility as a treatment of cancer (or any other condition).
  2. Because highly diluted homeopathic remedies are pure placebos.
  3. Because homeopathy has developed into a cult where one is no longer surprised to see studies emerging that are too good to be true.

7 Responses to Homeopathy for patients during oncological treatment? A new systematic review

  • I am waiting for Heinrich Hümmer to show up, pull out his case study and shout, “Homeopathy works! Here is the proof!”

  • Explaining the absurdity of homeopathy to someone is harder than many think.
    One case was an organic chemist who could not believe that people believed dilution increased strength.
    They thought it was a herbal supplement at first.
    After a realization that it was absurd and some people believe it, they have become an ardent opponent.

    • JimR

      Explaining the absurdity of homeopathy to someone is harder than many think.

      Most people have very little idea about how the body works, so to the layman, the principles of homeopathic dilution don’t seem very different from vaccination.

    • @Jim
      Most people don’t even know that homeopathic dilution usually means that there is nothing left of the original substance. And as Dr Julian Money-Kyrle already remarked, they also don’t know how the body works (basically insanely complex chemistry), or even what an incredible amount of knowledge a real doctor is supposed to master before being allowed to treat their first patient – knowledge that constantly expands, shifts and changes, at that, in order to continuously improve the science and art of medicine.

      There is, however, no shame in this kind of ignorance. In our modern society, it is literally impossible for any one person to know even a fraction of what there is to know. This is why most people are experts in one way or another, and are supposed to leave most things outside their own expertise to other people (i.e. experts in their particular fields). Even people in menial occupations usually have developed some sort of expertise in what they do that other people don’t have.

      This ignorance and reliance on other people’s expertise means that most people make only little distinction between real doctors or alternative practitioners. Both claim to be able to help with health problems, and both claim successes. Best case, they are vaguely aware that the alternative folks don’t usually deal with emergencies or very serious diseases.
      And once again, this (usually) unconditional trust in other people’s claims is not stupid or gullible per se; it is the only way to function in our society without going crazy. (Even conspiracy believers don’t distrust everything and everyone – they have in fact a lot of trust in what we would call untrustworthy sources of misinformation.)

      This is why it is important to warn people about the true nature of SCAM and the quacks perpetrating it, and also why these alternative practitioners appear to be successful when people turn to them with medical complaints. One of my favourite comparisons is that of the woman being sawn in half or the guy catching a bullet with his teeth, with no ill effects whatsoever: these feats look utterly convincing, even to someone who knows that they are just tricks. So if our mind can be tricked into believing that someone can be sawn in half without, um, ‘side effects’, the average human mind can certainly be made to believe that there is some special sort of water with healing properties.

  • In the review:

    “Competing interest
    The authors declare no conflict of interest.”

    Well, well, Ernst, Jutta Huebner is a member of the IHN network, which is an anti-homeopathy lobby in Germany. Do the editors of the journal know that Huebner failed to declare a conflict of interest? Anyway it’s a very strange review, it should be interesting to know how Huebner downgrades the quality of double blind trials to “observational trials”. This is very interesting because this is the first time I’ve seen someone do that. Is it because they know that Frass’s clinical trial is methodologically good? I see, the only thing they have to rule out the Frass clinical trial is the suspicion of the changes in the protocol that, for a change, repeat the same as in your blog. Hadn’t you promised that your letter would be published in The Oncologist a year ago?

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