Patients who choose to receive alternative therapy as treatment for curable cancers instead of conventional cancer treatment have a higher risk of death, according to a recent study.
There is increasing interest by patients and families in pursuing alternative medicine as opposed to conventional cancer treatment. This trend has created a difficult situation for patients and providers.
“We became interested in this topic after seeing too many patients present in our clinics with advanced cancers that were treated with ineffective and unproven alternative therapies alone,” said senior author James B. Yu.
To investigate alternative medicine use and its impact on survival compared to conventional cancer treatment, the researchers from the Cancer Outcomes, Public Policy and Effectiveness Research (COPPER) Center at Yale School of Medicine and Yale Cancer Center studied 840 patients with breast, prostate, lung, and colorectal cancer in the National Cancer Database (NCDB).
The NCDB represents approximately 70% of newly diagnosed cancers nationwide. Researchers compared 280 patients who chose alternative medicine to 560 patients who had received conventional cancer treatment.
The researchers studied patients diagnosed from 2004 to 2013. By collecting the outcomes of patients who received alternative medicine instead of chemotherapy, surgery, and/or radiation, they found a greater risk of death. This finding persisted for patients with breast, lung, and colorectal cancer.
The researchers concluded that patients who chose treatment with alternative medicine were more likely to die and urged for greater scrutiny of the use of alternative medicine for the initial treatment of cancer.
“We now have evidence to suggest that using alternative medicine in place of proven cancer therapies results in worse survival,” said lead author 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.”
The study appears in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.