Cancer cures with complementary medicine? No, it’s ineffective and can kill

cancer cures

As I have mentioned before, I occasionally answer questions on Quora regarding complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) cancer cures. Of course, there are few, if any, CAM cancer cures that actually do what they claim. If they did work, they’d just be medicine.

Of course, many of the answers provide answers that are supported by scientific evidence – CAM cancer cures do not work. Of course, there are a few scam artists answering the questions who make outlandish claims about cancer cures. And the number of times someone claims that cannabis is one of the best cancer cures is ridiculous – the evidence is extremely weak (see Note 1).

A paper was recently published that examined the survivability of individuals with curable cancers that refused conventional cancer treatments and chose complementary and alternative medicine. We will get to that article, but spoiler alert – CAM doesn’t work and may be dangerous.

What is complementary and alternative medicine?

CAM is any “medical” treatment that is not supported by robust scientific evidence or incorporated into evidence-based medicine. Most complementary and alternative medicine have no clinical effects beyond placebo (see Note 2), and it cannot treat any serious medical condition. CAM is pure pseudoscience.

CAM is known by its other names – quackery, quackademic medicine, snake oil, woo, or junk medicine. CAM quacks invent absurd pejorative names for evidence-based medicine just to create a silly false balance – terms like allopathy, conventional medicine, or Western medicine. You science-based readers will see through this nonsense, and understand what they really mean is “evidence-based medicine, but we prefer our pseudoscientific medicine.”

CAM includes traditional Native American remedies, traditional Chinese medicine (like acupuncture), chiropractic, homeopathy, New Age nonsense, and many other kinds of woo. Of course, many CAM scammers push their cancer cures, none of which have been shown to work.

CAM is popular because it provides false hope to those interested. These quacks can make outrageous claims about cancer cures because they can play to fears of cancer patients about surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy. These scammers promise cures that are easy, but these “therapies,” in fact, don’t work.

As Tim Minchin famously said,

You know what they call alternative medicine that’s been proved to work?

Medicine.

Cancer primer

Cancer is a group of diseases characterized by abnormal cell growth which can invade or metastasize to other tissues and organs. Although people use tumor and cancer interchangeably, not all tumors are cancer. There are benign tumors that do not metastasize and are not cancers.

The National Cancer Institute claims that there are over 100 types of cancer.  Cancer Research UK states that there are over 200 types of cancer.  The American Cancer Society lists over 70 types of cancer (although some are more classes of cancer rather than a single type).  Wikipedia lists over 180 different cancers.

The variance in number results from the lack of precise definitions for some cancers. So researchers may group several different cancers into one heading. But clearly, there are up to 200 or more different cancers.

Furthermore, each of these cancers has a different etiology (cause), pathophysiology (development), treatment and prognosis. When someone is called a “cancer researcher,” they are rarely studying all cancers, but they’re studying one small part of the story of one of the 200 or so cancers.

Cancer usually requires numerous, up to 10, independent genetic mutations in a population of cells before it can become a growing, metastatic cancer. Each mutation is selected, as in natural selection, because it provides some benefit to the cancer cell, such as causing blood vessels to supply the cells for nutrition and oxygen, or the ability to divide rapidly, whatever the feature is.

A recent study published in the journal Science makes a strong case for random chance as the most important factor in cancer development. According to the study, the vast majority of cancers are just a simple error in DNA replication. If this is so, developing one of the 200 (or more) different cancers may be unavoidable, despite a “healthy lifestyle” or attempting to “boost” your immune system.

Geneticist Bert Vogelstein and mathematician Cristian Tomasetti, at the Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, conducted the study, a follow-up to an earlier one, which arrived at the same conclusion. The researchers wanted to know whether replications errors were behind most cancers, versus other factors, such as tobacco.

The researchers found, after examining 32 different kinds of cancer, that 66% of these cancers were a result of chance mutations in cells, 29% resulted from the environment, and 5% from inheriting a mutation.

These mutations aren’t “naturally” a part of the cell’s physiology. Moreover, these mutations can have a lot of different causes – environmental (like smoking or UV radiation), viral (hepatitis B and human papillomavirus are the most famous), heredity, and maybe other things. These mutations are more or less random, and they can’t be prevented by anything special–if only it were that easy.

There are a few things you can do to prevent cancer, such as quitting smoking, staying out of the sun, getting your hepatitis B and HPV vaccinations, not drinking alcohol, keeping a low body weight, and eating a balanced diet. But even if you are a paragon of healthy living, a random mutation in some cell in your body can lead to cancer.

One last thing. A lot of our ideas about what may or may not cure cancer is based on preclinical research, which very rarely is brought into clinical trials or is successful in clinical trials. In fact, there seems to be a lot of evidence that it is difficult, if not impossible, to repeat the preclinical studies, so it makes it difficult, if not impossible, to accept the results of them. Simply, a lot of research that is publicly touted often ends up meaning nothing.

Oh, one more thing. Big Pharma isn’t hiding a secret cure for “cancer.” But they have brought the world thousands of effective treatments, in combination with evidence-based oncology, that has led to a substantial reduction in the cancer mortality rate over the past two decades.

Now, that CAM cancer cures are dangerous paper

The study, by Skyler B Johnson, MD, of the Yale School of Medicine, was published in JAMA Oncology in July 2018. The researchers examined a huge database of cancer patients over a 20-year period of time – it included an impressive 2 million individuals. They sorted to through the records to compare patients who used alternative medicine to treat their cancer to a matched sample of individuals who relied upon evidence-based cancer treatments.

I also want to emphasize that the researchers specifically selected for individuals who had easily treatable cancers.

Let’s cut to the chase – after controlling for confounding variables, that is, variables that can influence both the cause and the effect, individuals who utilized CAM for cancer treatment were statistically much worse off.

  • CAM users had a much lower chance of surviving 5 years after cancer diagnosis.
  • They were 2X more likely to die of cancer.
  • Less than 70% of CAM users were alive seven years after diagnosis. This compared to more than 82% of those who relied upon evidence-based medicine who survived seven years.
  • The mortality risk for those individuals who used CAM increased every year that they avoided standard cancer therapy.

Now, this doesn’t mean that the study found that CAM had a negative effect on cancer patients. CAM is worthless, it has no effect on health. However, what the researchers did state is that those individuals who preferred CAM were refusing or delaying conventional cancer treatments that actually work.

Because CAM is worthless, it probably doesn’t matter if the patient uses it along with conventional cancer therapy. It is amusing that many patients will give credit to the CAM therapy rather than the conventional one when their cancer goes into remission. Of course, most of us know the scientific facts about it.

Like I wrote in a previous epidemiological study, this is an observational study. It cannot show causality, except when it does. Moreover, size matters – this is a 2 million person study which allows us to see small statistical differences.

Summary of CAM cancer cures

If you have a cancer diagnosis, use real evidence-based medicine to treat it, not CAM quackery. Despite patient fears of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy, the evidence has shown us that they work and that the mortality rate for many cancers continues to drop every year. The trope that Big Pharma, Big Hospital, and Big Oncology are hiding the one cure to cure them would be amusing if it weren’t so dangerous.

Let’s be clear – complementary and alternative medicine is worthless. The evidence that it provides cancer cures just doesn’t exist – the best, most robust, highest-quality evidence shows the way we treat cancer is best done by real physicians with real backgrounds in oncology.

Notes

  1. If any compound of the marijuana plant can actually treat cancer, it will be isolated by real medical researchers, they will create a method to deliver that component directly to the site of the cancer, they will test it for efficacy and toxicity, and then seek FDA approval. Anecdotes and weak pre-clinical studies for any of the claimed cancer cures are nearly valueless to real science-based medical treatments for cancer.
  2. Many people overstate the value of placebos – officially, a placebo means that the effect is nothing more that can be found by giving the patient a sugar pill. The effect is almost always psychosomatic, so placebos effects are more prevalent with neurological conditions like pain, although the evidence that CAM can treat pain is laughably inconsistent. However, placebos have never been shown to treat cancer, mend a broken bone, cure an infectious disease, save a trauma victim, or do anything for other serious medical conditions. In science, anything with a “placebo effect” is considered a failure, and it would never receive FDA approval. The placebo effect is simply a myth.

Citations

How to prevent cancer in 12 easy steps – vaccines are critically important

how to prevent cancer

I have railed against pseudoscientific charlatans who claim that they have the easy way to prevent or cure cancer. Generally, these snake oil salesmen try to convince you that they have some miraculous food, supplement, spiritual energy, and on and on, that can either kill cancer in its tracks or keep them from even growing in your body. Of course, none of their claims are actually supported by robust science. On the other hand, real science has 12 evidence-based methods to actually prevent cancer.

But what about those memes that say that supplements prevent cancer? Nope, they don’t. And that’s been shown in study after study after study after study (yeah, I could go on for awhile).

What about avoiding GMO foods because they cause cancer? Again, studies show that GMO foods have no effect on cancers. Oh, one more thing – bananas don’t have tumor necrosis factor, and the yellow fruit can’t prevent or cure cancer (but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t delicious).

Despite the absolute lack of evidence that supplements, kale, bananas, or drinking the pure waters of a glacial fed stream (which may not be an option with climate change), there are only a few things that can be done to manage your overall risk of cancer.

How to prevent cancer has been codified by the World Health Organization’s  (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) into 12 steps (no, not that debunked one) that are called the European Code Against Cancer.

Let’s look at cancer and how to prevent cancer.

Continue reading “How to prevent cancer in 12 easy steps – vaccines are critically important”

The Medical Medium – junk medicine with psychic reading

Every time I think I’ve read it all, apparently I haven’t. I was pointed in the direction of someone – the Medical Medium – who pushes pseudoscience online. Worse yet, he mashes together alternative medicine and psychic readings.

Yes, you read that right. Using psychic readings, he then recommends alternative medicine.

Anthony William, who calls himself the Medical Medium, not because he’s right in the middle of medicine, but because he believes he’s a medium, that is, someone who can speak with spirits. I’m sure he has a Ouija Board.

I should just ignore every quack in medicine, but this one allows me to write some criticism about a pseudoscience – psychic readings – that I thought were long ago debunked. Besides, maybe I can bring a chuckle to some of you.  Continue reading “The Medical Medium – junk medicine with psychic reading”

Alternative medicine cancer treatment – increased death rate

Alternative medicine cancer treatment

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. Continue reading “Alternative medicine cancer treatment – increased death rate”

Pseudoscience is bullshit and science is definitely not

pseudoscience is bullshit

Pseudoscience and science – the former is a belief system that uses the trappings of science without the rigorous methodologies that values evidence. The latter is an actual rational methodology to discover facts about the natural universe. Pseudoscience is bullshit. Science is rational knowledge.

Pseudoscience is seductive to many people partially because it’s not only easy to comprehend, but also because it creates black and white false dichotomies about the natural universe. This fake science is the basis of alternative medicine, astrology, and many other “fields” that true believers try to say is science.

Pseudoscience tries to make an argument with the statement of “it’s been proven to work”, “the link is proven”, or, alternatively, they state some negative about scientifically supported therapies. It really  has an appeal to it because it digests complex analysis to a simple “yes, this works.”

Alternative medicine relies on this pseudoscience by creating the illusion that medicine can be really easy if you drink this kale shake, and you will have 100% chance of avoiding all cancer. Real science based medicine provides real clinical information about every cancer, how it can be treated, and what the real prognosis is.

Acupuncture, chiropractic, homeopathy, naturopathy, and many other “alternative medicine” beliefs are pseudoscience. They simply lack robust evidence to support their efficacy.

For example, real science has debunked the “there is a proven link between vaccines and autism,” a common and rather dangerous belief.  Real science has failed to establish the clinical usefulness of most alternative medicine (CAM) therapies.

We will also explore what exactly makes an idea scientific (and spoiler alert, it isn’t magic), and contrary the logic of science, what makes an idea “pseudoscientific.” So sit down, grab your favorite reading beverage, because this isn’t going to be a quick internet meme. Pseudoscience is bullshit, and let me show it to you. Continue reading “Pseudoscience is bullshit and science is definitely not”

Colon detoxification – myth versus science

colon detoxification

Listen to the radio for a few minutes. Or watch late night television for a bit. Through the commercials hawking insurance with talking geckos, promoting treatments for erectile dysfunction, and, exhibiting the coolest, fastest, most fuel efficient car, you will run across the reason for all that ails you–your failure to use colon detoxification to fix your problems.

Colon detoxification or, sometimes, cleansing is one of those strange alternative medicine ideas that hangs around without one single bit of evidence supporting it. We’re going to take a look at it with the feathery dinosaur’s skeptical eye. Continue reading “Colon detoxification – myth versus science”

Alternative facts – skeptics have been dealing with this for years

Alternative facts

Alternative facts, what most of us would call outright lies or misinformation, are the new standard of truthfulness coming out of the Donald Trump administration. It started when Kellyanne Conway, one of the numerous Trump talking heads who think Americans are stupid, said, “You’re saying it’s a falsehood. And they’re giving … alternative facts.”

Alternative facts seem to be pretty close to the Nazi propaganda technique, called the Big Lie. It is about the use of a lie so colossal that the public would not believe that someone would have the audacity to distort the truth so impressively. Except, I’m going to reiterate most Americans (an non-Americans) aren’t that stupid. And sorry for going Godwin so early in the article, but sometimes, it is necessary to point out the obvious.

I’ve been fighting alternative facts as skeptic for nearly three decades. It started when I got into an argument with a school board candidate in California who said that “evolution is just a theory.” Now, those of you with scientific understanding accept that a theory, at least in science, is approximately equal to a fact. What he should have said is, “evolution is just a fact,” but instead he was making “theory” a pejorative which implied evolution wasn’t a fact.

He and I must have argued for 20 minutes, when he finally claimed that science was a religion that required faith, which, of course, is the exact opposite of what science represents. I told him that he apparently lacked any education in science, so why should he be on the school board. He lost, though I take no credit for it.

Over the years, I have evolved (pun intended) into other areas of scientific skepticism, like GMOs, vaccines, and alternative medicine. See, even the junk medicine quacks grasped that “alternative” label long before Donald Trump walked into the national spotlight.

Let’s look at my favorite alternative facts of science.

Continue reading “Alternative facts – skeptics have been dealing with this for years”

Dr. Oz falls for the overhyped and debunked GMO corn study

dr. oz

A few weeks ago, Gilles-Eric Séralini and his homeopathy loving coauthor published an article in Food and Chemical Toxicology that concluded that glyphosate (known as Roundup)-resistant NK603 GMO corn, developed by Monsanto, causes severe diseases such as tumors in rats. And usual anti-science websites bought into this nonsense, including the TV medical practitioner, Dr. Oz.

It’s time to remind everyone that the Séralini study was bogus, and that Dr. Oz is also bogus. Here we go.

Continue reading “Dr. Oz falls for the overhyped and debunked GMO corn study”

Acidic blood causes cancer – time to demolish a myth

Acidic blood causes cancer

There are so many inaccurate, misleading, and harmful claims about cancer that I could spend years just debunking them. One of the most popular assertions is that acidic blood causes cancer – that is, if you lower the pH of the blood, it creates an environment to let cancer thrive.

Now, I’ve stated this about a hundred times on this blog (I am not kidding) – there are only a handful of scientifically sound methods to potentially lower your risk of cancer. Quit smoking is near the top. Stay out of the sun. Maintain a healthy (that is, very low) weight. Don’t drink alcohol. Get exercise. And a handful more.

And even if you do all of them, you just reduce your absolute risk, not completely eliminate it. You could randomly get a set of mutations – there are several trillion cells in the body, and even if genetic copying in cell division or transcription were 99.999% perfect, it still leaves millions of chances of mutations – that lead to cancer.

And then there are at least 200-250 different cancers, all with different causes, pathophysiologies, prognosis and treatments. In other words, even if you found some miracle way to prevent one cancer 100% of the time, it probably will have no effect on the other 200 or so cancers. We have tended to conflate cancer as one disease, when it is really a large set of diseases that have the same general physiology, but aren’t truly related.

Cancer is scary because it is so random. In many cases, the treatment is so harsh. And people are so interested in anything that may prevent cancer. And if it’s simple like “eat superfoods like kale and blueberries,” or “reduce acid in your blood,” the instinct is to try it out.

But let’s examine how and if acidic blood causes cancer. Spoiler alert – it doesn’t.

Continue reading “Acidic blood causes cancer – time to demolish a myth”

Google search terms – pseudoscience examples

pseudoscience examples

Google provides me with the search terms that result in clicking on a link to this website. I rarely look at them, but today I looked to find all of the search terms that were pseudoscience examples – some of them were hysterical.

I wanted to do something completely different – away from the anti-vaccination hate-filled creeps, away from the anti-science GMO beliefs, and everything else. Let’s amuse ourselves with some of my favorite search terms over the past three months.

Continue reading “Google search terms – pseudoscience examples”