the use of alternative medicines decreases the chances of survival

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People suffering from cancer who use alternative therapies are more resistant to all or part of conventional treatments, with the risk of delay or lack of care.

Homeopathy, traditional Chinese medicine, naturopathy, herbal medicine, fasting "therapeutic"… People with cancer using either of these "alternative" practices can improve their quality of life, but the other side of the coin is that they are also more resistant to conventional treatments. Of course, the choice of whether or not to accept a life-saving treatment such as chemotherapy belongs primarily to the patient. But, according to a study published July 19 in the scientific journal JAMA Oncology, the fact of having recourse to alternative medicines can be very damaging to him.

The study, conducted by doctors and researchers at the Yale University School of Medicine in the United States, examined 1290 US patients with one of the four most common cancers in the country (breast, prostate , lung and colorectal), all of whom were diagnosed at an early stage, without metastases. Of these, 258 used alternative therapies, in addition to conventional treatment (surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and / or hormone therapy). The majority were women with high incomes and a high level of education who benefited from private insurance. The remaining 1032 patients, who received only standard treatments, had similar characteristics.

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Patients refractory to conventional treatments

"It is important that patients do not see them as an alternative to conventional treatments, for which clinical trials have shown that they really improve survival"

Martin Ledwick, British Center for Cancer Research

What does the study tell us? First of all, less than five years after the diagnosis, alternative therapy patients are less likely to have survived their disease: 82.2% versus 86.6% of other patients. A difference that only occurs in people with breast cancer and colorectal cancer. A phenomenon that, according to the authors, can be explained by the refusal of patients to take at least one of the proposed conventional treatments. A third of them were refractory to chemotherapy or hormone therapy (against only 3% of other patients). And more than half refused to seek treatment by radiotherapy (against 2%).

However, this difference in survival fades if recourse to alternative therapies is not accompanied by a categorical refusal of care or a delay in starting treatment. Clearly, alternative therapies can not be harmful to patients, as long as they are used in addition to effective treatments. "It is important that patients do not see them as an alternative to conventional treatments, for which clinical trials have shown that they really improve survival," said Martin Ledwick of the UK Center for Cancer Research at the BBC. Some practices, such as massage, yoga, acupuncture and meditation have proven that they can provide well-being, improving the quality of life of patients whose care path is exhaustingfor both body and mind. According to the study, more than half of cancer patients would use at least one alternative therapy to supplement their treatments.

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But since these therapies are used instead of effective treatments, the life of the patient is endangered. Another study, carried out by the same team, had already shown that the exclusive use of alternative medicines doubles the risk of death from breast, lung and colorectal cancer.

But that's not to mention the very positive image of alternative therapies. Previous studies have shown that two-thirds of people with cancer believe that these practices can extend their lifespan, while one-third think they can even cure them. "The reality is that despite the fact that many patients believe that these unproven therapies will improve their survival, or even their chances of recovery, there is really no evidence to support this claim," he said. said Dr. Skyler Johnson at the BBC. For the doctor who led the study, the problem is that alternative therapies are sometimes presented as effective treatments against cancer.

The market for complementary and alternative therapies is worth billions of dollars in the United States, say the authors of the study.

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