Alternative medicine cancer treatment – increased death rate

One of the most annoying subjects that catch my eye on a regular basis is an alternative medicine cancer treatment that pervades the internet. I find it disheartening when people risk their lives for unproven pseudoscience over treatments that are supported with real scientific evidence.

Moreover, it is not my opinion that an alternative medicine cancer treatment is less effective than conventional cancer treatments. There is solid evidence that alternative medicine is worse.

Let’s take a look at this evidence.

Yale study

In a study that will be published in early 2018 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, the researchers examined 840 patients with breast, prostate, lung and colorectal cancer in the National Cancer Database (NCDB), which is a joint project of the Commission on Cancer of the American College of Surgeons and the American Cancer Society. Of that group, the researchers compared 280 patients who chose an alternative medicine cancer treatment to 560 patients who chose conventional cancer treatment.

The researchers studied patients diagnosed from 2004 to 2013. They collected information on the outcomes of patients who received alternative medicine instead of chemotherapy, surgery, and/or radiation.

Here are their results:

  • With breast cancer, patients using alternative medicine cancer treatment had a 5.68X greater risk of death than patients using conventional treatment.
  • With lung cancer, the alternative medicine group had a 2.17X greater risk of death.
  • With colorectal cancer, the alternative medicine group had a 4.57X greater risk of death.
  • Overall, patients using an alternative medicine cancer treatment had a 2.50X greater risk of death than patients who opted for conventional treatments.
  • The researchers concluded that patients who chose treatment with alternative medicine were more likely to die. The researchers also stated that there should be greater scrutiny of the use of an alternative medicine cancer treatment.

According to lead author, Dr. Skyler Johnson,

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

Korean study

Korean researchers examined whether alternative medicine use influenced the survival rate and health-related quality of life (HRQOL) of terminal cancer patients.  The researchers followed up on 481 patients, of whom 466 died of cancer. The group that used an alternative medicine cancer treatment had a 9% lower rate of survival than non-users.

Clinically, alternative medicine users reported significantly worse cognitive functioning and fatigue than those who use conventional cancer treatments.

The authors conclude that:

Compared with nonusers in subgroup analysis, users of alternative medical treatments, prayer, vitamin supplements, mushrooms, or rice and cereal reported clinically significant worse changes in some HRQOL subscales. CAM did not provide any definite survival benefit, CAM users reported clinically significant worse HRQOLs.

Norwegian Study

A Norwegian study examined the association between CAM-use and cancer survival. Survival data were obtained with a follow-up of 8 years for 515 cancer patients. A total of 112 patients used CAM. During the follow-up period, 350 patients died. Death rates were higher in CAM-users (79%) than in those who did not use CAM (65%). The hazard ratio of death for CAM-use compared with no use was 1.30. The authors of this paper concluded that “use of CAM seems to predict a shorter survival from cancer.”


There seems to be no evidence that any alternative medicine cancer treatment improves outcomes for cancer. In fact, recent evidence from the Yale University study seems to indicate that the outcomes are much worse for those who choose alternative medicine.

There are myths that conventional medicine does not work for any of the 200 or so different types of cancer. In fact, the cancer mortality rate in the USA has dropped significantly, as a result of real evidence based medicine.

Please, if you are considering an alternative medicine cancer treatment because you think conventional medicine is going to kill – you could not be more wrong. Real science shows us over and over that evidence based cancer treatment works. And is safer.  And provides a better prognosis for life.


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The Original Skeptical Raptor
Chief Executive Officer at SkepticalRaptor
Lifetime lover of science, especially biomedical research. Spent years in academics, business development, research, and traveling the world shilling for Big Pharma. I love sports, mostly college basketball and football, hockey, and baseball. I enjoy great food and intelligent conversation. And a delicious morning coffee!