"I was dealing with enough with the diagnosis. So it was distressing having to tell people why their ‘cure’ wouldn't work or could make my cancer worse. I had the explanation but not the energy to give it. I'm sure they were well-meaning but didn't realise the extra stress it caused me."
Lorna Pirozzolo, cancer.JE Founder
For alternative treatments cancer.JE use the following definition -
"alleged treatments or cures not currently accepted by conventional medicine"
If you have cancer you will know that people have opinions on everything you do. What you eat; drink; the body products you use and the exercise you do, people have opinions on it all. They also have opinions on what will cure you.
A cancer diagnosis comes with an overwhelming amount of information. Cancer patients need their loved ones around them. But they might find they withdraw from people because of unsolicited advice.
Loved ones don't mean to add to your stress. They are struggling to know what to say. But alternative treatment practitioners might see you as an easy source of income. They may tell you how other cancer patients benefited from their help. That can cause you more stress. Humans stress about saying no to sales people in shops or over the phone. When dealing with cancer you don't need the stress of saying no to people that claim they can help you.
We understand the human instinct to want 'to fix' things. But your loved one doesn't expect, or need, you to fix the cancer. They have a team of highly trained professionals for that. Most cancer patients are adults, they are capable of asking if they want advice.
At cancer.JE we hope that people will think twice before saying to cancer patients "Have you tried...?" or "I read about ...". We hope that family and friends will simply be there for them. You are the expert in giving them emotional and practical support. They need you for that.
Society & Medicine
Society presents us with negative information about modern medicine. They misuse words like 'poison' and 'toxic' to suggest that modern medicine is bad. Yet what people share about alternative treatment is usually very positive. They describe it using words like 'natural' and 'safe'. Again misusing these words. For more on this see our section on the abuse of language.
This is especially true of social media. Someone will think they have stumbled across a natural treatment. They share it with friends, thinking they're being helpful. They don't usually check if it is true before sharing. They share it once. Various friends share it. And soon it has reached thousands of people. Has anyone checked it out?
They don't understand that a company has paid a lot of money to have that message spread across social media. They didn't find that information by accident. Social media algorithms targeted them with it.
The truth? Actions speak louder than words. Even when it comes to drugs. Conventional cancer treatments have earned their place in modern medicine. Rigorous scientific studies have proven that they work. They have also already cured millions of people.
We compare and contrast the two industries in the section Pharmaceutical and 'Natural'.
Misinformation is costing lives. It is taking the lives of people with curable cancers.
Why spread misinformation?
Also the reader believes they 'found' this information. Or someone they trust sent them it. If they see an advert they know someone paid for it. But they don't realise that someone paid for misinformation to reach them.
Why are people fooled by it?
But it is also because they don't understand it. To do so requires having studied science beyond school level. Not all young people go to university. Some prefer to enter the world of work, or learn a trade. Of university students, less than a third have any science in their degree. (2017/18 Data from UK Universities). And of those degrees only a minority teach science relating to the human body.
So the majority of people have not studied human science. Certainly not to the level needed to spot flaws in the misinformation. There's nothing wrong with that. The world needs people working in all the different fields and areas of life. But when people share information they don't understand it can be dangerous. And if it is health-related information it can be deadly.
There are many similarities between the Pharmaceutical industry and wrongly-named "Natural" Medicine industry. This section focusses on those similarities.
Natural - existing in or derived from nature; not made or caused by humankind.
One of the biggest similarities is that they are both mainly unnatural. Their products are not usually sourced directly from nature, but are created by humans.
|Pharmaceutical Industry||'Natural' Medicine Industry|
Global pharmaceutical manufacturing market size valued at USD 324.42 billion.
(2019 data, Grand View Research)
Global complementary and alternative medicine market size esimated at USD 69.23 billion.
(2019 data, Grand View Research)
|Both industries are massively wealthy. Both are large businesses. And so they share the same focus of generating healthy profit for their shareholders.|
|Big Pharma and Big Herba are often one in the same. Companies like Wyeth, Bayer, Novartis, GSK etc. all manufacture and sell natural supplements.|
Many pharmaceuticals are synthetic versions of chemicals that occur in nature. Aspirin comes from the willow tree. The chemotherapy Taxol from the Pacific yew tree. Digitalis from the foxglove etc.
Supplements are usually chemicals synthesised in an industrial process. This includes vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. They are synthetic versions of natural nutrients.
Cancer charities fund research into pharmaceutical treatments.
Cancer charities fund research into alternative treatments.
Now we look at some of the main differences between the two industries.
|Pharmaceutical Industry||'Natural' Medicine Industry|
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency is the UK Government agency dedicated to the regulation of medicines and healthcare products.
Classed as 'Food Supplements' by the UK Government. Vitamins, minerals, amino acids etc. are only regulated as foods. As such they fall under the remit of the Food Standards Agency.
Patients can find out exactly what is in any drug they receive and can be sure there are no surprises.
|Food Standards Agency website states that the seller of the product is responsible for its contents and its safety.
The seller does not have to check the product is safe and labelled correctly before selling it.
It is known how efficiently pharmaceuticals are absorbed by the human body. For the majority how they work is also well known.
As previously stated how well, or poorly, synthetic nutrients are absorbed and used by the body is unclear.
But for some minerals and vitamins it is known that the natural version is absorbed much more efficiently by the body than the synthetic version. This is probably due to the other compounds within the natural source (the whole foods). Removing the nutrient from these other compounds can alter how they work.
With so many people in the world claiming to have "the cure to cancer" it is worth asking "Why cancer?". There are many, many diseases out there far less complex than cancers are. Why isn't the alternative treatment industry so vocal about those diseases?
It is also strange that the alleged cures are usually for all cancers not one specific cancer. This is despite the fact that all cancers are unique. You don't need to be a medical doctor or scientist to realise there won't be one cure to all cancers.
The reason it's all about cancer? People diagnosed with a serious or life-threatening disease can be very vulnerable. Fear of death can make a cautious person take huge risks. They may be willing to spend money they don't have. And to spend it on something they haven't properly researched. Those close to death may be willing to spend huge sums of money for what they see as the smallest chance of continuing to live.
When the goal is to make money, any claims of a cure have to be about a serious or life-threatening condition.
Abuse of Language - coming soon!
Lies By Omission might be a better heading!
Alternative therapy products are sometimes marketed with the use of a scientific claim that is true. You might wonder why we would have issue with an industry telling the truth. The problem is that the scientific claim they make may only be part of the story, they may be lying by omission.
A common example is cancer patients being told that they should follow an 'alkaline diet'. The claim is that "cancer cells cannot survive in an alkaline environment". This claim is partially true.
Cancer cells can survive in a slightly alkaline environment, human blood is slightly alkaline after all. But they cannot survive in a strongly alkaline environment.
The claim intentionally omits two important facts. 1) No human cells can survive in a strongly alkaline environment. 2) Diet cannot change the alkalinity of your body enough to kill cells (cancerous or healthy). The human body is designed to keep blood's pH within a very narrow range and it does this very well. Any excess alkali or acid is disposed of through urine. Urine is the only part of the body that responds to a diet's alkalinity and it exits the body!
The same lies of omission are often made about glucose and other foodstuffs. Most of the substances that cancer cells need to survive our healthy cells also need to survive. A healthy diet is about moderation, everything in moderation.
Dr. or Dr.?
The title "Dr." is not limited to medical practitioners, or even to scientists. Someone can use the title "Dr." because they have a PhD in any subject (including English, History, Geography etc).
A number of websites with alleged cures for cancer are created, or endorsed, by people who call themselves Dr. but who have no medical training. They use their title but don't make it clear that they have no training relevant to cancer.
This deception is probably intentional. People tend to associate the title "Dr." with those who have years of medical or scientific training. If the website is about a medical subject (eg. cancer) a person is likely to assume that the "Dr." has Oncology training and expertise.
I Cured Myself
Occasionally stories appear in the media about someone who claims to have cured themself of cancer. The stories can be very convincing. The subject of the story may believe that their own actions cured them. They may seem like a lovely person. Often the person has a related product or information to sell. Even if they aren't selling anything the media outlet has its own product to sell. Selling media in the 21st century can require stretching the truth and leaving out critical information.
Before you think about following a diet or method that someone claims cured them ask yourself the following questions:
- Did this person have the exact same type of cancer as me?
- Will they let me study their medical records?
It isn't common for a news outlet to give enough detail for you to know if the person had the exact same cancer as you. Even if the answer to the first statement is yes the answer to the second question will be no.
Self-healers don't release their medical records for public scrutiny. Without seeing the person's medical records the reader/viewer has no idea if the person's cancer is actually cured. Their cancer may be in a natural or drug-induced remission. They may have had surgery that removed their cancer completely. They may not even have had cancer to begin with. The reader/viewer has no idea what conventional treatment the person had.
Remember, if someone has cured themself of cancer they will be willing to prove it. They can only do this by making all the relevant sections of their medical records available for public viewing. If they won't let you and your medical team study their medical records you should ask yourself "Why?".
Checking Sources - coming soon!
Before Giving Advice...
Cancer patients desperately need the support of their loved ones. We have included this section to help people avoid damaging those relationships.
Unless you have had a similar type of cancer you cannot begin to understand the whirlwind that follows the words "You have cancer!". Because of this whirlwind offering advice is an action that should be approached with a lot of care and consideration. And, of course, if you are not formally trained in cancers you aren't qualified to give medical advice.
Offering unsolicited advice can do permanent damage to a relationship. The adviser might consider their words helpful and well-meaning. The cancer patient may perceive them as unkind, insulting, or adding to their stress.
If you are even tempted to offer what could constitute medical advice we suggest you ask yourself the following questions first.
- Cancers are incredibly complex diseases, how well do I actually understand them?
- How much clinical detail do I have about the person's specific cancer? Do I know the pathology of their cancer?
- Did my information or quote come from the internet or another third-party?
- If so, do I know the original source of the information/quote?
- If yes (to the above), have I verified their credentials?
- Is the person with cancer capable of doing their own research?
- Might the person with cancer already be overwhelmed with information?
- Could there be a long-term negative impact on our relationship if I offer unsolicited advice?
- If yes (to the above), am I willing to risk that relationship?