Refusing Chemotherapy; Opting For Alternative Therapies; Are You Crazy? Maybe Not

The evidence presented is clear.  Those women diagnosed with breast cancer who refuse to undergo surgery are clearly going to suffer dire consequences.  Or are they?

Pharmacist Scott Gravura presents a “science-based” argument against alternative cancer therapies.  His arguments are not baseless.  They are just narrow and incomplete.  [Science-Based Medicine]

Certainly there are “fake cancer cures” as Gravura calls them.  But what have desperate cancer patients to reach for once modern medicine fails them and they face stage-4 advanced metastatic cancer that is spreading throughout their body? Modern oncology has no specific treatment for metastasis.

Modern medicine leaves cancer patients fearful and unguided even though more than 8 in 10 cancer patients opt to use alternative therapies alongside conventional surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Alternative therapies for cancer are such a grab bag.  Patients are left to find to advice from health food store clerks, friends, online sources.  There are so many remedies posed as cancer cures – paw paw, black salve, sour honey, alkaline diets, garlic.  Which one?

Frankly, many of the alternative therapies touted by alternative practitioners, while exhibiting anti-cancer properties in lab dishes, aren’t cures in the full sense of the word.  Mr. Gravura mentions coffee enemas, juicing and mistletoe.  I wouldn’t give any of these a whisk of a chance at curing breast cancer.  I would point breast cancer patients to nutraceuticals like N-acetyl cysteine, rice bran IP6 and resveratrol however.

Mr. Gravura accurately describes the primary challenge in cancer treatment.  Detect and treat before cancer spreads (metastasis) or face dire consequences.  The problem for many physicians who shun alternative therapies is they can’t see the gaps in their own thinking.  Killing cancer cells never addresses what started the disease in the first place.  And you kill a few cancer cells today, tomorrow there are millions more.  Cancer comes roaring back in between treatments.  Don’t tell me there is nothing that can be done in between.

The 5-year survival rate quoted for untreated breast cancer patients is 18% and 3.6% at 10 years.  But those figures don’t dismiss alternative therapies.  The data just says “no treatment” does not make cancer go away.

But is the tumor life threatening? If not, why treat it and subject the patient to needless disfigurement, pain, suffering, risk of treatment side effects and financial stress?

If these desperate patients, justifiably suspicious of conventional cancer therapy, were properly instructed they might survive longer.  Left to their own devices, outcomes are comparatively disappointing next to surgery or chemotherapy.

Five arguments against alternative therapy

Mr. Gravura presents the first of five sets of data that show those women with newly diagnosed breast cancer who choose “no treatment” face a dire outcome.

Study #1

The first data set examines a small group of women who refused breast cancer treatment of any kind.  The study was published in the Annals of Surgery in 2005.  After 5 years 72% were still alive versus 87% for those who chose treatment.

Wait!  Almost three-quarters of these women were alive 5-years after refusing treatment.  So let’s say we have 100 women with newly diagnosed breast cancer.  87 of 100 will survive 5-years if they choose treatment, 72 of 100 will survive 5-years if they don’t.  Doesn’t this say doctors treat 72% of the patients needlessly when they would have survived without treatment?

So doctors have to needlessly treat 72 patients to save the lives of 15 others who would die.   There is something wrong with this proposition.  Why can’t modern medicine discriminate between the women who need treatment and those who don’t?  It appears they throw all patients into the same treatment basket and they get treatment whether they need it or not.  Doesn’t this data say doctors treat benign or at least non-life threatening cancer as if it is life threatening?

Study #2

Let’s move to the second data set provided by Mr. Gravura.  The data is provided in a report published in the American journal of Surgery in 2006.   Of the few (9) patients who refused chemotherapy for breast cancer, they raised their estimated 10-year mortality from 17% to 25%.  Again, this is evidence of the same problem.  Nearly three-quarters of the patients who elected to not undergo treatment are still alive 10 years later.  Treatment is 8% effective.

Study #3

In data set number 3, published in the Annals of Surgical Oncology in 2011, 61 patients with breast cancer (mostly stage 2, which is considered “highly treatable and potentially curable”) refused or delayed treatment.  Fifty (50) percent died while only ~25% would died if all subjects had undergone timely treatment.  Again, somehow, 50% of the untreated women survived with no treatment.  To save 25 lives doctors had to treat an additional 50 patients who would have survived without treatment.  Methinks a lot of oncologists are getting credit for saving lives that were never in danger of that.

Study #4

In data set number 4 as published in the journal of Complementary Therapy & Medicine 2012, 2562 breast cancer survivors were surveyed and 177 refused systemic treatment.  Eight in ten of these refusers used alternative cancer therapies, which had no effect upon survival.

Study #5

Data set number 5, as published in the World Journal of Surgical Oncology 2012, encompasses 185 women who refused cancer treatment between 1980 and 2006.  These patients rejected conventional treatment of any kind. Alternative therapies were used by 58%.  The 5-year cancer-specific survival was 46% for women who declined care versus 85% for women who underwent treatment.

Mr. Gravura goes on to quote a review of alternative therapies for breast cancer, published in Breast Cancer Research & Treatment in 2006, which mistakenly concluded “there is no compelling evidence that any of the numerous complementary treatments available are sufficiently effective in breast cancer patients to justify their use.”

How could there be any compelling evidence?  These unguided patients used a hodgepodge of therapies.  If there was one effective remedy in the mix it would have never been identified.

No evidence for chemotherapy

Dr. Ulrich Abel of the Mannheim Tumor Clinic in Heidelberg, Germany researched chemotherapy extensively and concluded “with few exceptions, there is no good scientific basis for the application of chemotherapy in symptom-free patients with advanced epithelial malignancy.” [Biomedical Pharmacotherapy 1992]

Jane E. Brody, the noted New York Times health writer, reveals data from surveys that show that most patients with stage-4 cancer mistakenly believe chemotherapy will cure their cancer.  [NY Times Nov 19, 2012]  Better start looking for alternative therapies if you are stage-4.  That is, unless you want to go to hospice and die.

An estimated 155,000 American women in the U.S. current live with metastatic breast cancer.  Yes, its treatable, but the treatment doesn’t address this stage of the disease.

The breast cancer merry-go round

There are scientifically bona fide nutraceuticals that could be recommended by oncologists.  None are.  Treatment that financially rewards the practitioner is the only therapy offered.  And if treatment doesn’t work, you are s_ _ t out of luck.

It’s obvious, treatment regimens for breast cancer are doctor-centered, not patient centered.  They are narrow (cut, burn, poison) and problematic.  Take it or leave it.  Oncologists aren’t in the business of prescribing potential cures that don’t have an insurance billing code.

Science-backed natural remedies

For the wary patient, vitamin C therapy for breast cancer is now suggested as a treatment option for patients with advanced tumors. [Experimental & Therapeutic Medicine Nov 2016]

N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), a sulfur-based dietary supplement, is also posed as an anti-breast cancer agent. [PLoS One June 20, 2013]

If oncologists will take the time to identify potential responders, some 20-30% of breast cancer patients can benefit longer disease-free survival rates from NAC therapy prior to surgery. [Oncology Nurse Advisor Nov 12, 2014; Clinical Cancer Research 2014

For women who should be wary of chemotherapy because of its unmitigated deleterious effects upon the heart, N-acetyl cysteine is suggested to allay heart damage. [Canadian Journal Cardiology Dec 2016]

NAC reduces breast density which is a risk factor for cancer. [FreeLibrary]

IP6 rice bran extract is appropriate for breast cancer patients.  [Breast Cancer Research Treatment 2005]  IP6 addresses cancer metastasis. [Anticancer Research 2003]  IP6 enhances chemotherapy. [Breast Cancer Research Treatment 2003]

When drug resistance is a problem in chemotherapy, the red wine molecule resveratrol helps overcome that problem. [Scientific Reports Oct 2016]

Resveratrol is a very promising remedy for breast cancer. [PLoS One June 29, 2016]  The combination of resveratrol + vitamin D enhances the growth inhibition of breast cancer cells.  [Journal Steroid Biochemistry Molecular Biology 2003]

At the very least, resveratrol should be prescribed to help prevent reoccurrence of breast cancer after treatment. [Seminars Cancer Biology Oct 2016]

It is unconscionable that breast cancer patients in remission are left with no advice whatsoever how to avoid recurrence.