Some M.D.s begin looking for a better approach to cancer treatment
For decades, the medical establishment has monopolized the treatment of cancer. It has fought against any non-medical approach and has refuse to even consider incorporating alternative therapies into the cancer-fighting regimen.
The results have been dismal and medical doctors are being pressured to open their eyes -- and their minds -- to search for a better solution.
According to Dr. Michael Thun, vice president for Epidemiology and Surveillance Research with the American Cancer Society, there will be an estimated eight million deaths from cancer in the year 2000. Millions of others will endure medical treatment which will leave them weakened, sick, in pain or disabled. Faced with that reality, some medical researchers are already calling for a new mindset when it comes to cancer treatment.
Although they seem unwilling to exclude medical therapy from the equation, many are pointing to a more balanced, holistic approach.
David Hess, a professor of Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., is trying to convince his colleagues that effective treatment of cancer requires a comprehensive approach by the medical community to a patient's total life situation. In addition, he says, medical policy needs to be reformed to incorporate evaluation of alternative and complementary cancer therapies.
In his recent book "Evaluating Alternative Cancer Therapies" (Rutgers University Press), Hess interviews more than 20 medical doctors, researchers, and patient advocates who are pioneers in the alternative/complementary therapy movement.
"Patients look to their clinicians for help in making decisions and navigating a new and frightening world of uncertain information about their treatment," Hess says. "But their oncologists may not be aware of many alternative treatments due to lack of scientific study by the medical establishment.
"Many patients, overwhelmed by their diagnosis, are emotionally unable to ask the right questions of their oncologists," he points out, "but increasingly patients are taking a more active role in their treatment."
Hess continues, "The field is changing rapidly. In the last year, there have been major advancements on the policy front toward making funding available for evaluation of alternative cancer therapies. But what cancer patients need is more information, and they need it immediately."
The book highlights the importance of providing more funding to evaluate the dozens of complementary and alternative cancer therapies that are in wide use by patients.
Whatever success might have been attributed to conventional therapies like radiation and chemotherapy have been offset by their high toxicity and serious side effects. Complementary and alternative therapies are usually non-toxic but have not yet been studied thoroughly enough to be able to show documented effectiveness.
Modest estimates suggest that over half a million American cancer patients are using alternative and complementary therapies such as dietary programs, supplements, imagery, and herbs yet there has been little to no formal evaluation of these therapies.
Experts interviewed by Hess call for an overhaul of medical policy and a framework for evaluating alternative and complementary therapies for cancer. They say:
- It is misleading to say there is no scientific basis to alternative/complementary cancer therapies. There is a great deal of suggestive and anecdotal evidence in support of complementary and alternative therapies, but because many of the products are natural foods or herbs, they do not receive the financial support that patentable drugs get to determine their effectiveness.
- The tumor-oriented approach of conventional medicine needs to be balanced with an individualized, patient-oriented approach that considers life circumstances, stress, environmental toxins, and nutritional deficiencies.
- Eliminating cancer risk factors -- smoking, lack of exercise, environmental carcinogens, nutritional deficiencies and imbalances, and stress -- are important for cancer prevention and for cancer treatment.
- A better strategy than cytotoxic conventional therapies is to strengthen and stimulate the body, particularly its immune system and nutritional status.
- The magic-bullet strategy is counterproductive to the advancement of cancer therapy. The strategy is driven by the financial necessity to develop a drug that will return a profit on the investments needed to obtain FDA approval and then covering the cost of marketing that drug.
Hess documents a movement of social scientists, engineers, actors, legislators, and journalists who -- in conjunction with highly-credentialed biomedical clinicians and researchers -- are birthing a "new science," one which offers a less toxic and potentially more humane future for cancer therapies.
SOURCES:"Wanted: Holistic Approach to Cancer Treatment," Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute June 10, 1999.
Dr. Michael Thun, press conference, 2nd World Conference for Cancer Organizations, May 21, 1999.
The Chiropractic Journal.