Alternative cancer treatment
I've had several questions about using alternative cancer treatments, such as laetrile, and it's time I addressed them here.
"Alternative treatments" are untested, unlicensed or unproven treatments given with hope that they will eradicate cancer. These herbal or holistic treatments are not part of conventional medical treatment because there is no rigorous proof that they work, and that is why the FDA has not approved them, and insurance will not pay for them. Standard chemotherapy is often derived from natural substances such as these, but the anti-cancer activity of these drugs was then confirmed by rigorous testing on thousands of patients which showed that they were effective in slowing cancer growth, extending life or relieving symptoms.
There are many reports and testimonials in the literature and online about new treatments associated with cancer cure. When (or if) these are taken to the next step, many fail to demonstrate their activity on other patients when subjected to the rigor and discipline of testing that is required for scientists, doctors, and the FDA to confirm activity. In the US they cannot be sold or used as cancer treatment, but may be given or sold as "dietary supplements" or used as complementary support for cancer patients. Outside of the US, though, many countries allow clinics and retailers to make unwarranted claims, and give alternative treatments or sell them online. Offshore clinics usually have no regulatory oversight. In the US, alternative clinics always offer conventional treatment as well as their unproven modality so they could legitimately claim to offer cancer treatment. Such businesses prey on the vulnerable.
Yet some people will try anything because they are desperate. If you do, know the risks:
1. Most herbal remedies do not have enough active ingredients to have any effects, but others can be harmful. For example, laetrile, also called "vitamin" B12 (it's not a vitamin), has contains enough cyanide to kill you if given in large doses. It was long discredited as a cancer treatment in clinical trials, but its popularity continues as a folk remedy.
2. Many patients look to alternative treatments in order to avoid the side effects of chemotherapy, even though some can have have toxic and unpleasant side effects.
3. Some treatments may be harmless on their own, but can have serious interactions with conventional chemotherapy or radiation. Tell your doctor if you are taking any of these while you are on active treatment.
4. Delaying standard medical care to try alternative remedies may allow a curable, Stage I cancer to progress to an incurable Stage 4.
5. Alternative remedies can drain your resources, especially if they involve going out of the country, or checking into a "clinic." This can easily drain your savings, leaving no resources for you or your family to deal with the costs and complications of advanced cancer.
Alternative treatments are not ignored by the medical community. This segment of treatment is under study by the National Institutes of Health, through the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). Accredited cancer centers may even have ongoing clinical trials testing supplements or procedures. The NCCAM web site is a valuable resource for people interested in complementary medicine. But be warned you are unlikely to fight your cancer if you treat yourself without the addition of conventional therapies.