Beware of Natural

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

SEPTEMBER 19, 2017

A quick summary of today's entry: Just because something is natural does not mean that it is safe. Think about rattlesnakes or black widow spiders or poke weed or bittersweet night shade. So much advertising is focused on natural, and since chemotherapy and radiation are most certainly not natural, the others can sound very tempting.

The second quick summary statement is this: If something sounds too good to be true, it probably isn't (true). The combination of natural and promises of cures should make you walk away quickly.

The third and final quick summary statement is this reminder: Always tell your doctor (s) about any supplements or herbs or vitamins or other CAM therapies that you are considering. Often the recommendation will be to stay away from them until active treatment is done. The studies have not been done to explore the possible interactions between herbs and most drugs, and you surely do not want to compromise your treatment by drinking a special tea.

From StatCancer is ‘natural.’ The best treatments for it aren’t

By Suneel D. Kamath 

Scanning electron micrograph of a three-day old cluster of breast cancer cells. 
in the early years of my career as an oncologist, I’m learning that you really remember the patients you can’t save. Those with essentially curable cancers who refused the right treatment stand out the most. 
One of those is a patient I’ll call Ruth. She was only 30 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, as I learned later from her medical history. It was localized to her left breast and contained within the relatively small tumor; there were no signs it had spread to other parts of her body. With the right treatment, Ruth had about a 75 percent chance of staying free of breast cancer for the rest of her life. 
The “right treatment,” though, wasn’t going to be easy. Ruth would need to have surgery to remove the tumor followed by several months of chemotherapy, which would cause fatigue, nausea, and hair loss. Then it would be on to several weeks of radiation, which can cause fatigue, skin irritation, and scarring of the lungs. The path would be arduous, but it offered Ruth the best chance for a cure. 
Instead, she chose an alternative medicine approach with a doctor in Mexico. I never learned exactly what it entailed, but it generally consisted of getting intravenous infusions of vitamins, including vitamin C, once a week. Drinking juices and other beverages with berry and plant extracts — all with supposed anti-cancer and healing properties — was also part of the treatment. Everything was “natural” and wholesome. After several months, she returned home to Chicago. Her breast felt fine and she thought the treatment had been successful. 
A year later, Ruth found herself tiring easily. She had little appetite and was rapidly losing weight. She had also having trouble thinking and remembering things. She came to the emergency room when she lost strength and balance in her legs to the point that she couldn’t walk. An MRI showed that her breast cancer had spread to the lining of the brain and entire spinal cord. A spinal tap showed that the fluid that cushioned Ruth’s brain and spinal cord was filled with breast cancer cells.

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