Alternative cancer treatments
describes alternative and complementary treatments for cancer
which have not been approved by a governing body (for instance, the United States Food and Drug Administration
) as being effective. These treatments are generally not supported by evidence, and concerns have raised about their safety.
Such therapies can be categorized broadly into three groups:
- Unproven cancer treatments that are offered as a substitute to standard cancer treatment.
- Alternative treatments offered as a complement to standard cancer treatment rather than as a substitute, primarily for comfort or palliation of symptoms.
- Chemicals, mixtures, herbs and devices which have been proposed in the past as treatments, but which with testing in clinical trials were found to be unproven. These may either continue to be promoted, sold and used regardless, or cease to be promoted and disappear from common usage.
Medical science has made major advances in the treatment of cancer, from the development of chemotherapy
in the 1940s through the recognition of the importance of adjuvant therapy
and the development of newer targeted therapies
. Nonetheless, cancer remains a common, frightening, and often incurable disease, and the side effects of chemotherapy
and other cancer treatments can range from unpleasant to potentially fatal. These factors can increase the appeal of alternative treatments for cancer, which propose to offer fewer side effects and greater effectiveness than standard therapies. "Alternative" cancer treatments are typically those which have not undergone the rigorous scientific and clinical testing expected by the medical community. These cancer therapies appear and vanish frequently, and have throughout history.
Today, about half of the practitioners who dispense alternative treatments are physicians, although they tend to be generalists rather than oncologists. As many as 60% of physicians have referred their patients to a complementary or alternative practitioner.
Complementary and alternative cancer treatments are often grouped together, but this grouping is controversial. Complementary treatments may receive more support within the mainstream medical community. A 2006 systematic review of the effectiveness of these techniques in reducing pain concluded that although several seemed promising, conclusive evidence was lacking.
The most popular alternative cancer therapies are nutritional, including the macrobiotic diet, and other therapies include mind-body intervention, bioelectromagnetics, various biologic/pharmacologic treatments, and herbs. The popularity and prevalence of different treatments varies widely by region.
A 2006 systematic review 214 articles covering 198 clinical trials of alternative medicines concluded that many did not properly analyze the proper doses. It also reported that the methodology of many of the studies "is open to criticism".
Examples of alternative treatment
None of the cancer treatments on this list have substantial evidence for their effectiveness in treating cancer. Some have shown some benefits as complementary therapy, to reduce pain. Vitamin C, perhaps the most well-known and controversial, is undergoing a clinical trial based on in vitro
findings and theoretical speculation as to its in vivo
effectiveness. Very few suppliers of alternative medicines have undertaken scientifically controlled clinical trials
for their products, although occasional preliminary testing, or testing as adjuvant therapy, has been performed. For this reason, alternative therapies generally rely on testimonial or anecdotal evidence
. In the United States
regulations forbid the makers of unproven products from claiming efficacy against cancer.
The US FTC recently acted against companies that made unsupported claims that their products, some of which included highly toxic chemicals, could cure cancer. Targets included Omega Supply, Native Essence Herb Company, Daniel Chapter One, Gemtronics, Inc., Herbs for Cancer, Nu-Gen Nutrition, Inc., Westberry Enterprises, Inc., Jim Clark’s All Natural Cancer Therapy, Bioque Technologies, Inc., Cleansing Time Pro, and Premium-essiac-tea-4less.
Disproven or scientifically implausible