Last year, the American government's Office of Technology Assessment published a report about the efficacy of alternative treatments. That report was widely denounced as biased and unscientific by many alternative patient groups and researchers alik
Despite hundreds of billions of dollars spent on research and treatment since 1971, the "war on cancer" is a colossal failure. The overall age adjusted cancer death rate has actually risen by 5 per cent. In 1987 a US government study reached this dismal verdict: "For a majority of the cancers we examined, the actual improvements have been small or . . . overstated."
Alternative Approaches are:
To mainstream doctors, cancer is viewed as a localized disease, to be treated by localized means. By cutting out, irradiating or poisoning the tumour, the traditional doctor hopes to kill it and thus save the patient.
In opposition to this allopathic model based on aggressively attacking an "enemy" disease, alternative cancer therapies regard the tumour as a symptom. To the alternative practitioner, cancer is a systemic disease, one that affects the whole body. In holistic medicine, the body is a healthy, self regulating organism which doesn't get sick unless something harmful is done to it. Instead of attacking the tumour, many alternative therapies aim to rebuild the body's natural immunity and strengthen its own ability to destroy cancer cells.
"We're not talking about quackery or snake oil medicine here. There are serious, scientifically based approaches to cancer which do not happen to fit the mainstream model," says Michael Evers, executive director of Project CURE, a Washington, DC based patient advocacy group; Project CURE's goal is to have nontoxic cancer therapies available to patients as part of standard medical practice. To this end, it lobbies American Congress to support "a pluralistic medical system" in which competing options will be available to all consumers.
Misconceptions about alternative cancer therapies abound. Here are the most common:
Myth No. 1: All alternative cancer therapies are worthless.
This is the general position of the $80 billion a year "cancer industry". But the facts tell a different story. Patients of alternative practitioners many of them diagnosed as terminal by orthodox MDs are alive and well five, 10 or even 15 years after diagnosis and treatment. Many more patients at least have been able to hold their cancers in remission. Some alternative physicians have amassed clinical evidence demonstrating safety and effectiveness, although these therapies have yet to be subjected to evaluations that would meet with official approval from the orthodoxy.
"We find patients alive today who would not be survivors if they had followed conventional treatments," observes Ruth Sackman, president of FACT (Foundation for Advancement in Cancer Therapy). "This is a phenomenon worthy of scientific investigation by the medical establishment."
This is not to say that all nonconventional methods work. Some may be ineffective or fraudulent. Patrick McGrady, Jr., founder of CANHELP. a database organization which helps provide a customized report for patients seeking suitable alternative or conventional forms of treatment, cautions: "Most alternative therapies are almost totally useless just like the conventional therapies."
"In the case of terminal cancer, success ratios [of alternative treatments] have ranged from 2 to 20 per cent," claims holistic health advocate Gary Null, who spent years tracking down nontoxic practitioners' patients and investigating various clinics. Some sources cite higher success rates with particular nontoxic therapies. McGrady of CANHELP is quite sceptical of all such claims. One thing is certain: there are no "magic bullets," no guarantees.