Cancer.org, Fear-Mongering?

Hello again.

Earlier today I came across an article on cancer.org which seemed like a deliberate attack piece against natural healing.  I’ve linked that article in-full here, but I quote the whole article in blue on this blog post, along with my point-by-point commentary and rebuttal.  If you don’t feel like reading the whole thing, stay tuned; I’ll probably do a video on this in the next few days.  Here we go:

“The Truth About Alternative Medical Treatments”

“Almost 40% of Americans believe cancer can be cured through alternative therapies alone, according to a survey conducted by the American Society of Clinical Oncology. This is alarming because evidence shows that people who use alternative therapies in place of standard cancer treatments have much higher death rates.”

Okay, first of all, “almost 40% of Americans” are correct.  Cancer can be eliminated without the use of any conventional medicine.  To imply people have never achieved this is irresponsible and ignorant. I am NOT saying alternative approaches are the best way, nor am I saying anyone should completely ignore conventional medicine.  I AM saying there’s a time and a place for everything. It’s absolutely shameful to attempt to scare someone out of an approach which may in fact be helpful, whether that approach is natural, conventional, or somewhere in between.

As far as “evidence shows that people who use alternative therapies in place of standard cancer treatments have much higher death rates”…higher death rates compared to who?  Does this hold true across all cancer types and stages?

Some conventional treatments are statistically guaranteed to end in the death of certain patients.  What about them?  Is conventional medicine truly the best or only solution in cases where it holds ZERO HOPE of success, and yet carries with it a host of extremely debilitating side effects?

That’s a personal question which- unfortunately- many cancer patients must ask themselves.  As a scientist and health coach, I’m not going to get in their way. Not by trying to hyper-inflate the value of one particular out-of-context statistic. We each need to trust science- to a degree- but we need to use common sense and intuition.

“The terms “alternative,” “complementary,” and “lifestyle” medicine are used to describe many kinds of products, practices, and treatments that are not part of standard or traditional medicine. Alternative therapy refers to non-standard treatment used in place of standard treatment, while complementary therapy usually means methods used along with standard treatment. Lifestyle medicine is a newer field that describes its approach as preventing and treating illness through healthy eating, physical activity, and other healthy behaviors without the use of medicine.”

Okay, we agree.

“In some cases, complementary methods can help cancer patients feel better when used alongside standard treatment and with the advice of a health care provider.  Alternative and complementary therapies are often appealing because they use your own body, your own mind, or things that may be found in nature. But sometimes these methods wrongly claim to prevent, diagnose, or treat cancer even when they have not been proven to work through scientific testing.”

Yes, however it’s worth knowing that natural cures, treatments, and prevention are against the law in the United States.  So even when these things HAVE been proven to work through scientific testing, the providers of these products cannot legally tell you so.  This has a chilling effect on funding that otherwise would go toward developing natural products for the purpose of cancer treatment, and the treatment of many other diseases.

“And in the worst cases, some alternative or complementary therapies may be dangerous or even deadly.”

True. Same thing with conventional medicine, which is arguably more extreme by far. And in both cases, sometimes it’s worth the risk. Personal decision.

“Some may also interfere with how standard cancer treatment works. If you’re thinking about using any non-traditional therapy, it’s important to first discuss it with your health care team.”

True, but this risk is far less common and serious than cancer patients are led to believe. Also, in my experience, most oncologists lack the training or resources to honestly say which natural approaches will interfere with conventional treatments.  If you have these questions, you will probably want to work with a pharmacist and a cancer coach or naturopath.  And do your own research.  Involve your doctor, but don’t rely on them for knowledge they probably lack. That’s not fair. Listen: the nutrition advice typically given to cancer patients here in Pittsburgh is usually “eat whatever you want”.  It’s a total joke. Obviously we can do better than that.

“Alternative and complementary therapy can pose dangers

Some of these therapies promise wellness using a method that sounds simple, wholesome, and without harmful side effects. But this is not always true. Some concerns include:

  • Delaying surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or other traditional treatment by using an alternative therapy can allow the cancer to grow and spread to other parts of the body.”

This assumes conventional treatment always works and alternative therapy never works.  Anyone who has studied cancer even a little knows this is a bad assumption.

  • “Some complementary and alternative therapies have been reported to cause serious problems or even deaths.”

Yes. However, your odds of causing “serious problems or even deaths” from natural approaches pale in comparison to those of conventional therapy for cancer.  We need to use common sense when comparing our options.

“Certain vitamins and minerals can increase the risk of cancer or other illnesses, especially if too much is taken.”
Again, I’m calling the authors of this article out on their obvious double-standard.  Many cancer drugs are themselves mutagenic or oncogenic. And again, let’s apply common sense: anything is dangerous “if too much is taken”.  Even pure water.

”Some companies don’t follow Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules about making claims and labeling supplements properly.”
True, but watch how fast the FDA drops the hammer on those companies, and be amazed.

“In some cases, harmful contaminants can get into dietary supplements because of how they are manufactured or handled.”
I actually agree with this! And worse, sometimes the supplements don’t contain what they claim. As with anything, you need to know what you’re doing. Don’t just go into Wally World and expect to get a top-notch supplement. Third-party lab verification is helpful. If you’d like brand recommendations for any particular supplement, you can contact me.

“How complementary medicine can be helpful and safe

Some complementary methods have been studied and shown to help people feel better while they’re undergoing standard cancer treatment under a doctor’s care. Examples might include meditation to reduce stress, peppermint or ginger tea for nausea, or guided imagery to help relieve stress and pain during medical procedures.

Many complementary treatments are unlikely to cause harm and won’t interfere with your cancer treatment. Here are some examples:

  • Acupuncture may help with mild pain and some types of nausea.
  • Art or music therapy may promote healing and enhance quality of life.
  • Biofeedback uses monitoring devices to help people gain conscious control over physical processes that are usually controlled automatically, such as heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, sweating, and muscle tension.
  • Massage therapy can decrease stress, anxiety, depression, and pain and increase alertness, according to some studies.
  • Prayer and spirituality help many people with the emotional side effects from cancer.
  • Tai chi and yoga have been shown to improve strength and balance in some people.”

Right.  You’re scratching the surface of a very deep lake, here.  If my clients limited themselves to only these approaches- which have mainstream approval from conventional medical professionals (who have effectively zero training, experience, and education in natural healing techniques)- my clients would be at a huge disadvantage.  Most people being treated for cancer are missing out on an entire world of options, and it’s sad. In my view it’s perhaps even criminal.

“Warning signs

If you are thinking about using any method instead of standard evidence-based medical treatment, it is important to talk to your health care team first. And watch out for these warning signs:

  • Be suspicious of any treatment that says it can cure cancer or other difficult-to-treat diseases (such as chronic fatigue, multiple sclerosis, AIDS, etc.). It’s important to remember that those claims have not been proven.”

Again, those claims are illegal in the United States whenever we’re talking about non-medical approaches.  If a natural substance helps cure cancer, its manufacturer (and distributors) legally cannot tell you.  Your doctor legally cannot tell you.  I, a scientist, legally cannot tell you.  Let this sink in.

Side note: any time I see a statement like “those claims have not been proven”, or “there is no evidence to show…” I wonder, did they literally check everywhere?  It’s like me saying, “there is no evidence anyone is standing on a boat with a smile on their face right now”. Did I check every boat?  No.  So how certain am I, really?  It’s difficult to prove a negative.

Any statement claiming to prove a negative is probably being used as a marketing tool to persuade you to see things a certain way.  It’s unscientific.  Almost every major cancer-related organization publishes these statements in slam pieces against unconventional medicine. This is why I feel the need to speak up.

  • “Be suspicious of any treatment that claims to offer benefits with no side effects. Even herbs and vitamins have possible side effects. If the treatment is marketed as having no side effects, it has likely not been studied in rigorous clinical trials, where side effects would be seen.”

This is true.  You need to know what you’re doing, which takes a lot of self-education.  (A great reason to work with a health coach or naturopath!)  Listen: a lot of natural approaches are just that- natural.  Too much water, too much time in the sun, too much exercise, or too much carrot juice can all be harmful.  Don’t let that keep you from drinking water, going out for a jog, then enjoying a glass of carrot juice.  Avoiding a healthy lifestyle for fear of doing yourself harm just doesn’t make sense.  Know your own needs and limitations.

  • “Be suspicious of promoters who attack the medical or scientific community or who tell you not to use standard or traditional medical treatment.”

Sure, but let’s turn this around for the sake of fairness, because I could just as easily say, “be suspicious of promoters who attack the naturopathic or scientific community or who tell you to only use standard or traditional medical treatment. These people make a lot of money from standard treatment and have even infiltrated the government and major non-profits that offer guidance on cancer treatments”.

I mean, that’s an obvious character attack, right?  There’s an element of truth in both cases, which is why you need to learn to evaluate information based on its own merit, not by its source.

If a doctor says, “Your foot is actually just a tool to help you remove earwax”, do you automatically believe them? Eeeesh.

  • “Beware of treatments you can get in only one clinic, especially if that clinic is in a country with less strict patient protection laws than those in the United States, the United Kingdom (UK) or the European Union (EU).”

Definitely. An extra layer of caution is smart in these cases. Just don’t let this scare you off from considering all your options. Sometimes a breakthrough treatment comes along which has some degree of success, but hasn’t been (or can’t be) approved for use in the United States. Obviously, clinics offering these treatments cannot legally operate in the USA. Some of these clinics were started by doctors who left the USA for this exact reason: freedom to help their patients as they see fit.  It’s crazy.

  • “Beware of terms such as “scientific breakthrough,” “miracle cure,” “secret ingredient,” or “ancient remedy.” Beware of personal stories that claim amazing results but provide no actual scientific evidence.”

Yeah, I agree.  Never put all your eggs in one basket and expect a singular miracle cure.  What worked for someone else may not work for you. That said, if somebody you know & trust believes they were helped by a particular approach, it’s wise to at least listen.  Not everything has been studied and reported in a peer-reviewed journal.  I am willing to consider strong anecdotal evidence, when there’s enough of it.

  • “Find out about the training and education of anyone supporting the treatment or using it to treat you. Find out if they are medical doctors and whether they are experts in cancer care or complementary medicines.”

Yes, but don’t rely on anyone simply because they are a professional doctor or scientist / cancer coach.  We all have our limits, myself included.  Each of us has our own expertise.  One of my jobs is to help people find the right expert at the right time.  Don’t fall into the trap of sticking with one particular medical provider, unless things are going really well for you.

  • “Find out whether scientific studies or clinical trials have studied this treatment in people (not just animals), and what side effects have been reported. Find out if the treatment could harm you or interact badly with your other medicines or supplements.”

This is great advice for any treatment you are considering. Yes.

  • “Learn whether the findings have been published in trustworthy journals after being reviewed by other scientists who are experts in the same field, or if they have been promoted only in the mass media, such as books, magazines, the internet, TV, infomercials, and radio talk shows.”

This is helpful, but in my experience, not everything of high value has been published in a peer-reviewed journal.  I love to find a good study when I can.  But again, this is the logical fallacy of “Appeal to Authority”.  Good science is everywhere, and bad science is everywhere.  Work with someone who knows how to read a study.  Even if you see a study in a peer-reviewed journal that seems to support a certain concept, be sure you’re using that information in the proper context to guide your decisions.  It’s foolish to assume everything you find in scientific journals is automatically more truthful and more useful than everything else.  Judge the quality of the information, not its source.

Well that wraps it up!

Bottom line: know what you are doing, carefully consider every option, then move forward confidently.  Confidence itself is healing!

Take Care & God Bless,

– Coach B
scientist, CHCC, Reiki practitioner

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