In the early years of my career as an oncologist, I’m learning that you really remember the patients you can’t save. Those with essentially curable cancers who refused the right treatment stand out the most.

One of those is a patient I’ll call Ruth. She was only 30 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, as I learned later from her medical history. It was localized to her left breast and contained within the relatively small tumor; there were no signs it had spread to other parts of her body. With the right treatment, Ruth had about a 75 percent chance of staying free of breast cancer for the rest of her life.

The “right treatment,” though, wasn’t going to be easy. Ruth would need to have surgery to remove the tumor followed by several months of chemotherapy, which would cause fatigue, nausea, and hair loss. Then it would be on to several weeks of radiation, which can cause fatigue, skin irritation, and scarring of the lungs. The path would be arduous, but it offered Ruth the best chance for a cure.

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Instead, she chose an alternative medicine approach with a doctor in Mexico. I never learned exactly what it entailed, but it generally consisted of getting intravenous infusions of vitamins, including vitamin C, once a week. Drinking juices and other beverages with berry and plant extracts — all with supposed anti-cancer and healing properties — was also part of the treatment. Everything was “natural” and wholesome. After several months, she returned home to Chicago. Her breast felt fine and she thought the treatment had been successful.

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A year later, Ruth found herself tiring easily. She had little appetite and was rapidly losing weight. She was also having trouble thinking and remembering things. She came to the emergency room when she lost strength and balance in her legs to the point that she couldn’t walk. An MRI showed that her breast cancer had spread to the lining of the brain and entire spinal cord. A spinal tap showed that the fluid that cushioned Ruth’s brain and spinal cord was filled with breast cancer cells.

I met Ruth when she was first admitted to the hospital. By then, she couldn’t articulate where in Mexico she had received her treatment, or what exactly it was, because her memory was fading and she was increasingly confused. She had no family and refused to call her friends for support.

I explained that her breast cancer had spread widely and that she had a few weeks or months to live. We could give her a high dose of a chemotherapy drug called methotrexate to try to improve her balance, leg strength, and mental clarity, but beyond keeping her comfortable there was little else we could do. This time, Ruth agreed to chemotherapy, though it was far too late. Despite the treatment, she became more confused and her weakness worsened. She lost the ability to speak or swallow any food or water. Four days later, Ruth slipped into a coma and died alone in a hospital room. She was only 31.

It is human nature to believe that anything that is “all natural” is intrinsically good. That line of thought can lead people astray. The truth is, cancer is all natural. While some are caused by smoking or chemical exposures, most of them are sporadic, meaning they aren’t caused by any lifestyle factor, food, or chemical exposure. Cholesterol, a major cause of heart attacks and strokes, is natural and even necessary — the body requires it to build cell membranes and the protective covering around nerves. HIV, Ebola, and Zika are all caused by naturally occurring viruses.

Ruth, with her belief in so-called natural healing, thought nothing of stepping onto an airplane weighing thousands of pounds and flying at 30,000 feet from Chicago to Mexico. What could be more unnatural?

Absolute and exclusive belief in natural alternative medicine to cure cancer has devastating consequences. A study out this month in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute looked at 281 patients with non-metastatic breast, lung, colorectal, and prostate cancers who chose to be treated exclusively with an alternative approach, and compared their survival with patients who received conventional cancer treatment. Overall, those in the alternative medicine group were 2.5 times more likely to die. Those with lung cancer were nearly 2.2 times more likely to die, and those with colorectal cancer were 4.5 times more likely. Women with breast cancer fared the worst — with a 5.7 times higher death rate among those who chose only alternative therapies. Several other studies have shown similar outcomes, especially for breast cancer.

People with cancer are easy targets for naturopathic scams because they can be desperate for hope and extensively research their treatment options. “Natural” treatments with few side effects appear irresistible when compared to surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. But it is almost impossible for most people to know beforehand that these natural remedies won’t do anything for their cancer. If the cancer returns, they are more likely to blame the cancer rather than the ineffective natural remedies they received.

There’s no doubt that alternative medicine can play important roles in cancer care. Techniques such as acupuncture, yoga, meditation, and others can greatly improve cancer-related fatigue, pain, mental health, and quality of life when they are added to standard cancer therapy.

Some doctors reject alternative medicine completely, alienating patients like Ruth in the process. The unfortunate thing is that she didn’t have to choose between alternative and traditional medicine. They can be complementary approaches, not exclusive ones. She could have taken vitamin C tablets, drank berry extract beverages, and participated in yoga or meditation classes during chemotherapy or radiation therapy regimens.

Making a decision about treating cancer shouldn’t be based solely on a natural versus unnatural algorithm. We should focus on making choices that realistically have the best chance to help us. Sometimes, the “unnatural” option is the best one.

Suneel D. Kamath, M.D., is a hematology/oncology fellow at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

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  • They haven’t been proven effective or safe yet. Just because the red tape wrapped around our healthcare system and lack of studies based on our scientific standards exists doesn’t mean the these treatments don’t exist. The US aren’t the only people that exist or practice medicine and aren’t the only ones who have a say in what works and what doesn’t. This link from wiki.org talks about a ‘quack’ treatment like Iscador, the same treatment that is being used in clinical trials in the US. So which is it, quackery or potential medicine according US standards? Chemo and many pharma drugs aren’t safe or effective. Yet, they are practiced in the US and if they fail to work or cause side effects, it is considered acceptable.

    • “It’s not been proven…” What I find incredulous is how trusting Americans believe the medical industry. Safe and effective treatments. Hmm. Let’s look at what is “safe and effective.” The dictionary says of “safe: protected from or not exposed to danger or risk; not likely to be hurt or harmed.” As for the word “effective, the dictionary states: successful in producing a desired or intended result.”

      Some of the more common side effects of chemotherapy include: infection, anemia, nausea, bleeding, diarrhea, vomiting, hair loss, fatal infections, and even promotion of cancer. That doesn’t quite fit the definition of safe.

      I used to be strongly against alternative until western medicine could no longer help treat or control my autoimmune disease effectively. In a strange way, I was forced to look at alternative although difficult. The greatest challenge was learning to have an open mind. It wasn’t until I began implementing alternative ideas presented by doctors (genuine MD’s that had changed their views of treating disease and become integrative physicians), that I discovered alternative approaches to treating disease actually work and are effective from vascular/cardiac disease, to endocrine, to rheumatology, to cancer and more. As I read the literature published in different medical journals from around the world, the more I realized that the American medical industry is limited in what they have actually accomplished in understanding and treating disease. They had in a sense, “hoodwinked” Americans into believing that America has the best and only form of effective treatments for cancer, autoimmune diseases, etc. As I’ve observed this, it has become clearer that the medical industry knows how to treat symptoms but they don’t understand how and what causes disease and as a result only know how to treat the symptoms — by pharmaceutical drugs. Western medicine doesn’t get to the root cause of disease and as a result, we have an epidemic of diseases that are not shrinking but are rather increasing. This is alarming considering America is considered as having the finest medical care in the world.

      Cancer treatments do not improve the quality of the life even though doctors often make that claim. What patients believe and what doctors believe are two different things. Despite the fact that doctors claim treatments are effective, the truth is that chemo side effects have been documented to be anything but “safe” and “effective.”

      These documented facts go back decades if one takes the time to research the literature which I’ll just touch on briefly. In 1975, Nobel Laureate James Watson of DNA fame was quoted by the New York Times saying that the American public had been “sold a nasty bill of goods about cancer.”

      In 1985, Dr. John Cairns, professor of microbiology at Harvard, published his view in Scientific American stating, “basically the war on cancer was a failure and that chemotherapy was not getting very far with the vast majority of cancers.” Later, in 1991, Dr. Albert Braverman, Professor of Hematology and Oncology at the State University of New York, Brooklyn, had an article published in Lancet entitled, “Medical Oncology in the 1990s,” where he was quoted saying: “The time has come to cut back on the clinical investigation of new chemotherapeutic regimens for cancer and to cast a critical eye on the way chemotherapeutic treatment is now being administered.”

      That’s just a smidgen of a boatload of published documentation showing that chemo is anything but successful, much less safe and effective.

      In 1986, Dr. John Bailar former chief of epidemiology at McGill University in Montreal and editor of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute co-wrote an article with Dr. Elaine Smith, a colleague from the University of Iowa. In the New England Journal of Medicine, they wrote, “Some 35 years of intense and growing efforts to improve the treatment of cancer have not had much overall effect on the most fundamental measure of clinical outcome – death. The effort to control cancer has failed so far to obtain its objectives.”

      So let’s take a look at chemo, the primary form of treatment “allowed” and used in the U.S.: Alan C Nixon, PhD, former president of the American Chemical Society was once quoted saying, “…as a chemist trained to interpret data, it is incomprehensible to me that physicians can ignore the clear evidence that chemotherapy does much, much more harm than good.”

      Dr. Hardin Jones, Professor at the University of California concluded “patients are as well, or better off untreated.” Dr. Jones’ focused his studies on the issues related to cancer for more than two decades. Eventually, his findings brought some shocking revelations. He worked as a professor of medical physics and physiology at Berkeley College and spent more than 20 years of his life studying the effects of chemotherapy in cancer patients and analyzing their life expectancy. He added that most people suffering from cancer who have been exposed to chemotherapy end their lives in great pain. He believed that cancer patients who undergo chemo will most likely die faster and in greater pain compared to patients who have chosen any other treatment or have rejected to undergo a treatment. Dr. Jones went on to state that patients who don’t have chemo live about 12 years longer (on average) compared to those that undergo chemotherapy. His conclusion that conventional cancer therapy reduces life expectancy and accelerates the deterioration of the system was published in the reputable New York Academy of Sciences journal. The findings stated that breast cancer patients who didn’t receive chemotherapy manage to live four times longer compared to those that receive it. Patients who thought that chemotherapy was the best choice usually die three years after they were diagnosed with cancer, and in some cases, even after a month or two. The American Medical Association Journal released another study in 1979 that showed most of the popular treatment & diagnosing techniques for breast cancer (most of which are used currently as well), didn’t have positive effects in most patients.

      The pharmaceutical industry has hidden the fact that cancer patients die from the treatment (mostly chemotherapy), not from the effects of the cancer. Most patients who died of cancer were patients that died of malnutrition. This is because cancer-affected cells absorb all the nutrients from the body and also block the work of the immune system. The body grows so weak that it can no longer defend itself from threats.

      Shrinking tumors by chemotherapy means encourages stronger cancer cells to grow and multiply, ultimately becoming chemo-resistant. The National Cancer Institute has documentation showing that a side effect of chemotherapy, new cancers are caused (or caused by secondary cancers).

      America prides itself on being technologically advanced, and they base this this technology as rooted in a foundation of good science. Little is based on science. The Office of Technological Assessment published a paper, “Assessing the Efficacy and Safety of Medical Technologies” where it revealed that we are told fewer than 20% of all medical procedures have been tested, and that of those tested, half were tested badly.”

      Even the pharmaceutical industry admitted that there is no profit in researching more antibiotics. In 2013, the Pharmaceutical Journal said, “The reason why many companies dropped out from the anti-infectives [field] was because of the [lack of] return on investment,” according to Klaus Dembowsky, chief medical officer of Polythor, which licensed its investigational antibiotic POL7080 (which targets “superbug” pseudomonas species) to Roche.” In other words, there wasn’t sufficient financial incentives for them to pursue finding a better antibiotic.

      I would beg to strongly differ with Mark. Chemotherapy is anything but safe (by the true definition of the word). Despite the fact that the alternative methods practiced in Mexico are not “proven” does not mean it is not effective. I have seen and heard of too many overcomers that chose to go the route of alternative treatments and lived to enjoy many, many years cancer-free. Am I claiming it is 100% guaranteed effective? No. But if I were to place my odds on one form of treatment, I would chose alternative hands-down. And if I were faced with cancer, I would not hesitate to contact that clinic in Mexico.

      Don’t forget, when a person is diagnosed with cancer, they’re suddenly worth $300,000.00+ to the cancer industry. Could that be a motivating factor behind why patients find themselves shamed and dismissed by the industry when they decline chemo and opt for alternative methods?

  • Excellent idea!! I’ve heard very good reports on that clinic. Go for it if you can. I’m extremely glad to hear they didn’t push the toxic treatments which is typically done, despite the age of the person. I wish you all a very successful outcome. A worthwhile viewing DVD documentary that touches on the clinic is called “The Beautiful Truth.” It’s an outstanding documentary about a teenager who looked into the Gerson therapy. He travelled to interview medical experts and eventually Charlotte Gerson. It was well done. It can be seen for free online or rented through Netflix. If you would like to view it online, check out topdocumentaryfilms.com. Very encouraging documentary. [I’ve been hesitant to mention this just because I wanted to be respectful of the site but if they want to help people I would hope they would support your efforts particularly when conventional has said what they did] you might want to also check out The Truth About Cancer, Chris Beat Cancer, and Cancer Tutor to name a few. Dr. Russell Blaylock, retired neurosurgeon who has treated and supported cancer patients as they went through conventional treatments, is another excellent resource. He wrote an outstanding resourceful book entitled, “Natural Strategies for Cancer Patients.” All of the above approach cancer alternately and offer tremendous resources and information. I wish you and your father the very best. God bless you both.

  • My father is 83. He was recently diagnosed with Bladder and Prostate Cancer. When discussing treatment options he was told by the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Utah that most surgical, radiation, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy options are risky for his age (they have told him there is a <20% survival rate with most of the before mentioned procedures). Because of the low probabilities for someone his age (and with a couple of heart stints, cholesterol issues), they are considering a center in Mexico called Hope 4 Cancer because they supposedly can offer treatments not allowed in the US. Do you have any recommendations for someone at his age with his background? Thanks.

  • I apologize for not adding that when first diagnosed–my father did EXACTLY what his oncologists told him to do, and that his cancer was ‘curable’. It metastasized several months after he completed chemotherapy for what turned out to be a chemo-resistant cancer. They then said–this is just too bad but we have nothing left to offer you, and you are going to die. I can only imagine what he could have done to prevent it from spreading in the first place, before opting for his first chemo regimen, by going to a comprehensive clinic that included Vitamin C infusions, close monitoring and other treatments, which by the way (this article doesn’t mention), often includes low-dose chemotherapy (at these alternative clinics). It may not have worked, but it may have–considering the trials that are now going on for his specific genetic mutation. My heart is broken that he was corner-stoned by the arrogance of his oncologists to other treatment options that patients do actually find success in.

  • There is much to be said about both conventional and non-conventional treatments and/or a combination of both. There is no right answer. I have heard first-hand success in all of the above. I don’t think it is fair to say that one or another is better. I think it is fair to say that every cancer and every patient is different. Having a crystal ball would be our only real ‘chance’ for a cure. Even then, cancer can come and go and individual stories range all across the spectrum. I am not against either form of medicine. I am against people defying one or the other type of medicine, altogether. That being said, this article leaves no room for non-conventional treatments. My father has a very rare form of colon cancers that is actually being treated with clinical trials of Vitamin-C infusions at one of the most well-known cancer centers in the United States. This article downplays Vitamin C infusions–yet here in our country they are finding that it has potential to be useful, particularly for a cancer that conventional medicine offers NO viable treatment options. There are clinical trials now, in our country (and around the world) that involve Mistletoe (Iscador) extract and turmeric. These are found on clinicaltrials.gov, the main resource for conventional trials going on in the world. It is both utterly arrogant and ignorant to assume the outcome of any given patient, at any given time and that there is only one way of doing things, which is the ‘best’ thing. This is the real problem with cancer treatment. The variance in each patients situation, the utter wretchedness of cancer, itself–and the arrogance along each side (for BOTH natural and conventional medicine). Unfortunately, this article illustrates arrogance in just that.

  • Alfredo Bowman said “Our body will only accept what it’s made of. Carbons”. Doctors are just in it for the money this is a fact.

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