Patients who choose to receive alternative therapy as treatment for
curable cancers instead of conventional cancer
treatment have a higher risk of death, according to researchers from the Cancer
Outcomes, Public Policy and Effectiveness Research (COPPER) Center at Yale
School of Medicine and Yale Cancer Center. The findings were reported online by
the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

There is increasing interest by patients and families in pursuing
alternative medicine as opposed to conventional cancer treatment. This trend
has created a difficult situation for patients and providers. Although it is
widely believed that conventional cancer treatment will provide the greatest
chance at cure, there is limited research evaluating the effectiveness of
alternative medicine for cancer.

While many cancer patients use alternative therapy in addition to
conventional cancer treatments, little is known about patients who use
alternative therapy as their only approach to treating their cancer.

“We became interested in this topic after seeing too many patients
present in our clinics with advanced cancers that were treated with ineffective
and unproven alternative therapies alone,” said the study’s senior author,
James B. Yu, M.D., associate professor of therapeutic radiology at Yale Cancer Center.

To investigate alternative medicine use and its impact on survival
compared to conventional cancer treatment, the researchers studied 840 patients
with breast, prostate, lung, and colorectal
 in the National Cancer Database (NCDB) – a joint project
of the Commission on Cancer of the American College of Surgeons and the
American Cancer Society. The NCDB represents approximately 70% of newly
diagnosed cancers nationwide. Researchers compared 280 patients who chose
alternative medicine to 560 patients who had received conventional cancer

The researchers studied patients diagnosed from 2004 to 2013. By
collecting the outcomes of patients who received alternative medicine instead
of chemotherapy, surgery,
and/or radiation, they found a greater risk of death. This finding persisted
for patients with breast, lung, and colorectal cancer. The researchers
concluded that patients who chose treatment with alternative medicine were more
likely to die and urged for greater scrutiny of the use of alternative medicine
for the initial treatment of cancer.

“We now have evidence to suggest that using alternative medicine in
place of proven cancer therapies results in worse survival,” said lead
author Skyler Johnson, M.D. “It is our hope that this information can be
used by patients and physicians when discussing the impact of cancer treatment
decisions on survival.”

Cary Gross, M.D., co-author of the study, called for further research,
adding, “It’s important to note that when it comes to alternative cancer
therapies, there is just so little known – patients are making decisions in the
dark. We need to understand more about which treatments are effective – whether
we’re talking about a new type of immunotherapy or a high-dose vitamin – and which
ones aren’t, so that patients can make informed decisions.”


REFERENCE: Use of Alternative Medicine for Cancer and Its Impact on Survival,
Skyler B. Johnson, Henry S. Park, Cary P. Gross, James B. Yu, Journal
of the National Cancer Institute
, doi: 10.1093/jnci/djx145, published 10
August 2017.