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Don’t Heal Thyself

Let those who know, do.
Steve Jobs was one of the wealthiest men in the world. A brilliant visionary who changed the way people communicate, learn, and work. His innovations altered everything. He was also a bit of a prick, but that only mattered to those closest to him and is not relevant here today. What is relevant is that, despite his brilliance, he was also a moron. You see, in 2003 he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It was caught early, had over a 90% survival chance if treated traditionally, and it killed him. Why? Because he wanted to “try alternative medicines.” By the time he realized they weren’t working it was too late. All he could do was put his affairs in order, write a book, and shuffle off this mortal coil. So that is what he did. It was a complete waste of a human life. All because one of the smartest men in the world believed some shit he’d read on the internet.

“But, but, but,” you stammer, I read that ____________ cures ___________ and is safer. No it doesn’t and no it isn’t. While some holistic treatments can, and do, shore up traditional medicine, think cannabis as part of pain treatment for Crohn’s disease, most do more harm than good. The longer a patient eschews medical assistance the more the disease takes hold, just like in the case of the late, lamented, Mr. Jobs, and the less likely said patient is to survive.

How less likely, you ask, weighing the risks versus the possible discomfort. More than you might think.

Pete Dockrill, over at Science Alert, has published an article based on a decade’s worth of research done by Yale University, and has come to the conclusion that your risk of dying doubles once you head off to internet land instead of the hospital.

Choosing alternative medicine to treat curable cancer instead of conventional cancer treatments more than doubles your risk of dying in five years, according to a new study.

There’s no denying that alternative medicine is a hugely popular choice for many Americans, with one in three taking some kind of alternative remedy – but new data shows that rejecting conventional medicine when faced with a cancer diagnosis is an extremely risky gamble.

Researchers from Yale University analysed 10 years of records in the National Cancer Database from 2004 to 2013 and identified 281 patients who had presented with early-stage breast, prostate, lung, or colorectal cancer – but decided to forgo conventional treatments in favour of alternative approaches.

These individuals make up only a small minority of cancer patients overall, but for many, their decision to reject conventional treatments ended up coming at a big cost.

When the researchers compared their survival rates with 560 patients facing the same diagnoses but who opted to receive conventional chemotherapy, surgery, and/or radiation treatments, the individuals who elected to solely take alternative medicine were overall two and a half times more likely to die within five years.

Sobering stats to be sure, but the prospects were even graver in three of the cancer sub-groups.

People taking alternative medicine for breast cancer were 5.68 times more likely to be dead in five years. For colorectal cancer it was 4.57 times, and lung cancer had a factor of 2.17 times.

What brought the overall average down was prostate cancer, for which there wasn’t a statistically significant association between alternative medicine and early death – but, as the researchers acknowledge, that’s likely because prostate cancer is a slowly progressing disease, whose ultimate long-term impact fell outside the scope of the study.

“We now have evidence to suggest that using alternative medicine in place of proven cancer therapies results in worse survival,” says lead researcher and oncologist Skyler Johnson.

“It is our hope that this information can be used by patients and physicians when discussing the impact of cancer treatment decisions on survival.”

Go back and read that again. Yes, I get it, this is on the internet too. But, and this is key, it’s based on real science which was conducted by studying real dead people. People who need not be dead. People who flushed their lives away based on a rumor.

I guess this is important to me because I know a lady who is wandering down the “alternative medicine” path to treat breast cancer. Nuts and berries aren’t going to help her but she doesn’t believe that. So, no matter the truth, she continues to follow a path that is going to get her killed. At her current rate I would say in about two to three years.

Then she will leave her kids, her husband, and her friends behind wondering why she’s not there.

I’ll be blunt here. Alternative medicine is just a slower form of suicide. You’re welcome to make that choice, just understand what choice it is you’re making and what its ramifications are.

I’ll let Dr. James Yu end this blog. He”s got a degree, and I don’t, so maybe you’ll listen.

“In this study, all the biases were in favour of alternative medicine, in that the cohort was younger, more affluent, and had fewer comorbidities. These patients should be doing better than the standard therapy group, but they’re not.

“That’s a scary thing to me. These are young patients who could potentially be cured, and they’re being sold snake oil by unscrupulous alternative medicine practitioners.”

Hopefully, with this new data at hand, it’s easier for doctors to help communicate some of the risks surrounding alternative medicines to treat cancer, cutting through misinformation people may have heard from friends or read on the internet.

Because ultimately, of course, the choice is up to them.

“If patients make an informed decision, because of patient autonomy, they can do whatever they want,” Yu said.

“We’re always advising them; we can’t make them do anything.”


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