Quacks could be killing 1,000 Australians every year

No alternative to cancer

If 1,000 Australians died every year because they did not receive adequate medical treatment for their disease you would think that there would be national outrage. You can probably imagine the uproar if every year more than 5,000 Australians with potentially fatal illnesses simply disappeared off the medical records. Especially, if you knew that most of this death and trauma inflicted on these people and their families is entirely unnecessary because there are good medical treatments for their conditions.

Unfortunately, that is exactly what has been revealed during a special investigation by Australia’s Science Channel into people who forego conventional medicine treatments for their cancers in favour of searching for an alternative cure.

This year we can expect over 130,000 new diagnoses of cancer in Australia. With conventional treatment, the overall survivorship five years after diagnosis is 67%, meaning more than two-thirds of people diagnosed with cancer this year will live to see 2021.

Despite this, there is a small percentage of people diagnosed with cancer, who don’t pursue conventional treatment preferring instead to seek out alternative cures.

It is prescient to point out that there is a difference between complementary treatments and alternative cures.

Many cancer patients will pursue unconventional treatments for their disease or the symptoms of their disease alongside a regime of conventional medical treatments such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery. In fact, the front-line cancer medical experts we spoke to during our investigation actually encourage their patients to seek out unconventional, complementary treatments to help them through their ordeal with cancer. The key there is open discussion with the doctor or nurse about what other treatments the patient is trying. This way medical professionals can manage any conflicts or complications that may arise with the treatments they are already providing.

The concern is when a patient takes up an alternative cure for their cancer to the exclusion of conventional medical treatments. There are several problems with this course of action. The first is that alternative medical practitioners are not required to keep records of their treatments nor do they have to record the progress of those treatments. So no one really knows what happens to these people. We do not know of the efficacy of alternative treatments, something we would know if proper records were kept. But, from the limited data that is available, we can find no alternative treatment for cancer that actually works.

Why would a patient with a diagnosis of cancer turn away from conventional treatment? Professor Maria Kangas from Macquarie University says there are probably a variety of reasons including fear or having witnessed a friend or relative having gone through conventional medical treatments. In some cases, patients lured away from conventional treatments by promises of cures from alternative therapies. Unfortunately, these are promises that do not appear to be fulfilled.

The cases that are particularly distressing are those who return to the medical environment after having tried to find an alternative cure for their cancer. Usually this only occurs when things go wrong, the cancer has progressed and, what was a treatable condition, has developed into an untreatable cancer with a poor diagnosis.

What happens to the cases that don’t return to the medical environment? “We just don’t know”, says breast cancer nurse practitioner, Karen Redman. The assumption is that most of them suffer unnecessarily and many of them die prematurely. The extremely limited data from studies overseas indicate that they greatly increase the risk of dying prematurely from their cancers. We do not have a strong body of data showing that significant numbers of people either cure their cancer or significantly extend their lifespan following any proposed alternative cancer treatment. In short, there is no evidence that any alternative treatment for cancer actually works.

So how big is this problem? Again, this is difficult to pin down because of the lack of record keeping. The expert practitioners we spoke to all indicated a ‘drop off’ rate of between 3-5% but this is just within the area of breast cancer. If we assume that rate applies across all types of cancers, then, of the 130,466 new cancer diagnoses for Australia in 2016, we can expect over 5,000 people will choose not to pursue conventional treatments. We can assume most of those people will be looking for alternative treatments. Applying the demographic of prognoses for treated versus untreated cancers, this will result in around 1,000 premature deaths within this year.

We asked what’s to be done about this appalling and unnecessary waste of life and unwarranted infliction of suffering. The experts we spoke to all clamour for more and better education and awareness of what’s available and what the prognosis is for all alternative therapies. This means research and record keeping by alternative practitioners, the collection of hard data, of their successes and failures, so that a patient can be fully informed of what is likely to lay in their future. Perhaps, if the data were there that showed poor prognoses around alternative therapies, patients would be less willing to take up that course of treatment.

A key feature in the successful treatment of any cancer is timing. The earlier conventional treatments can be brought to bear on cancer, the better the prognosis for survivor-ship or even cure from the disease. Conversely, delaying action for any reason, decreases the prognosis for survivor-ship and increases the chances of dying from the cancer. Delaying conventional treatment while searching for an alternative cure is, all too often, a fatal mistake.

Watch the full story at http://www.australiascience.tv/videos/no-alternative-cancer