Some so called cancer cures are harmful

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager Emeritus, Oncology Social Work

MAY 08, 2019

Alternative Cancer TreatmentsMany, if not most, people with cancer consider adding alternative therapies or CAM (complementary and alternative medicine) to their prescribed cancer treatments. While some may help with an overall sense of well-being or symptom management, many don't work. Research shows that up to 30% of people with cancer have tried a so-called "cure" that doesn't have any benefits. Even worse, some of these "remedies" are dangerous to your health and may affect how well other cancer treatments work.

Especially while surfing on the internet, you are likely to run across many suggestions and testimonials about herbs or supplements or foods that can cure cancer. A good example is the suggestion that cancer patients adhere to an alkaline, or low acid, diet. The thinking here is that cancer cells in the lab can't survive in an alkaline environment. The catch, however, is that what we eat does not affect the acid level in our bodies; our bodies control that all on their own.

A more dangerous example is cesium chloride, a kind of salt that is advertised and sold as an alternative cancer treatment. The ads say that it can keep cancer from spreading. There has been no evidence or proof of that claim, and side effects include nausea, diarrhea, and irregular heartbeat. It can even lead to serious cardiac problems.

This list could go on and on, but the important message is caution and common sense. Especially when we are in treatment, flooding our bodies with medicines and chemicals and other things that we ordinarily try to avoid, it is tempting to look for seemingly more gentle or natural medicines. Let me remind you here that some things that are natural are poisonous; think of mushrooms or even snakes.

It is most unfortunate that there are people who are trying to take advantage of our worry and desperation. Through the years, I have worked with a few patients who truly believed that scientists and doctors knew of a real cancer cure (and note here that there will never be a cure as cancer is many different diseases) and are withholding that knowledge in order to make money. That is just plain not true. What is true is that there have always been charlatans who are clever and spot opportunities to make a buck.

If you want to try something beyond the prescribed standard Western treatments, consider things that are external to your body: massage or Reiki or meditation or yoga. Certainly no harm, and perhaps some real benefit, will come from those. Many of my patients have been very happy with acupuncture to treat neuropathy or nausea or fatigue.

The basic rules and cautions are two:

  1. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably isn't.
  2. Be sure to tell your doctor about any CAM treatments that you are considering. Many oncologists prefer that you avoid anything you ingest during the months of active anti-cancer treatment. Once the treatment is over, there is no danger of interactions that might reduce the efficacy of the cancer drugs.

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Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.