Alternate Cancer Treatments & Medicines

Alternative (Unproven) Treatments

Whether they're looking for a short cut to losing weight or a cure for a serious ailment, consumers are spending billions of dollars a year on unproven, fraudulently marketed, often useless health-related products, devices and treatments. Why? 

Because health fraud trades on false hope. It promises quick cures and easy solutions to a variety of problems, from obesity to cancer and AIDS. But consumers who fall for fraudulent "cure-all" products don't find help or better health. Instead, they find themselves cheated out of their money, their time, and maybe even their health. Fraudulently marketed health products can keep people from seeking and getting treatment from their own healthcare professional. Some products can cause serious harm, and many are expensive because health insurance rarely covers unapproved treatments. To avoid becoming victims of health fraud, it's important for consumers to learn how to assess health claims and seek the advice of a health professional. 

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) includes a broad range of healing philosophies, approaches, and therapies that have little basis in fact. While there is no doubt that relaxation therapy and meditation can improve quality of life in cancer patients, calcium and vitamin D supplements protect bone density, and acupuncture can relieve certain symptoms, there is no evidence for the effectiveness of any other CAM. 

The world of CAM is powered by theories that have almost never been tested successfully, and its proponents frequently cite that fact as proof of their unique value. They use scientific jargon, the concept of holistic therapy, faith, false hope, testimonials, and outright lies to sell their products. They eschew the concept of evidence, and belief outranks effectiveness. CAM was previously referred to as quackery, folk medicine, fraud, and “snake oil”. It has been given increasing credibility as the world turns away from technological progress and scientific research. The belief in CAMs demonstrates the fundamental tenet of denialism, where an individual or population will turn away from reality in favour of a more comfortable lie. Unless data fits neatly into an already formed theory, a denialist doesn’t really see it as data at all. That enables him to dismiss even the most compelling evidence as just another point of view. Denialists invoke illogical fallacies to buttress unshakeable beliefs.

Myths of Complementary and Alternative Medicines

They are effective:

Rigorous, well-designed clinical trials for many CAM therapies are lacking; therefore, the safety and effectiveness of many CAM therapies are uncertain. While there are many studies showing a clear benefit for exercise in preventing cancer and improving recovery, studies of vitamin supplements have never produced similar outcomes.

There are actually many trials showing vitamin C and B17 to be entirely ineffective, if not harmful, yet they are still commonly used

They improve your immune system during chemotherapy:

There is no evidence that any CAM objectively improves immune function at any time, let alone during treatment with chemotherapy.

On the other hand, there is significant evidence that vitamins, anti-oxidants and other unproven agents can interfere with the positive effect of chemotherapy and cause increased side-effects. THESE AGENTS MUST NOT BE TAKEN DURING TREATMENT.

They cause no harm:

Supplements may have drug-like effects that could present risks for people on certain medicines or with certain medical conditions. This is true, even if the product is marketed as "natural." For example, St. John's Wort can have potentially dangerous interactions with a number of prescription drugs.

Mistletoe therapy can lead to serious side effects and may in fact cause tumours to spread. Vitamin supplements have been linked to a higher incidence of breast cancer and more deaths from prostate cancer.

They provide hope:

Cancer patients who fall for fraudulent "cure-all" products don't find help, hope or better health. Instead, they find themselves cheated out of their money, their time, and their health. 

They may refuse effective treatments or palliative care services, avoid counseling to help them deal with their predicament, and in the end be abandoned by those who gave them false hope, or even worse, told they were to blame for the failure of success.

There is a conspiracy by the established medical industry to keep the cure for cancer hidden:

If history has taught us anything about cancer, it is that it is not an easy disease to cure. Cancer is a name given to a wide range of diseases; each requires different forms of treatment. It is 2,400 years after the disease was first recorded by Hippocrates and presumably even longer since the first treatment was attempted. Agents that cure cancer have been found through rigorous clinical trials, and more cures probably are due to better methods of early detection.

To cure all cancers, there is much more to be learned about the human genome, cell cycle and division, growth factors, and the underlying determinants of cancer. It seems unlikely that fields of research outside this body of knowledge will make a lot of progress. But if an "alternative" practitioner did stumble onto an effective method, the scientific community would quickly embrace it and there would be no cover-up.

Cancer patients considering CAMs  should discuss this decision with their doctor or nurse, as they would any therapeutic approach, because some complementary and alternative therapies may interfere with their standard treatment or may be harmful when used with conventional treatment. Questions to ask include the following:

  • What benefits can be expected from this therapy? 
  • What are the risks associated with this therapy?
  • Do the known benefits outweigh the risks?
  • What side effects can be expected?
  • Will the therapy interfere with conventional treatment?
  • Is this therapy part of a clinical trial? If so, who is sponsoring the trial?
  • Will the therapy be covered by health insurance? 


The Cochrane Collaboration
The National Centre for Complementary Medicine
The Harvard School of Public Health
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre
Surgeon General’s Report on Nutrition and Health

Bausell, R.Barker. Snake Oil Science: The Truth About Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2007.
Ezard, Ernst. Healing, Hype or Harm? A Critical Analysis of Complementary or Alternative Medicine. Societas, 2008.
Singh, Simon. Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts About Alternative Medicine. New York, USA: WW Norton, 2008.
Specter, Michael. Denialism: How Irrational thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives. New York, USA: Penguin Press, 2009.