It’s impossible to describe the pure, desperate frustration that is a fact of daily life when you have a child with cancer. As Theresa Niewenhuis said in her heartrending letter to all cancer moms, every piece of bad news breaks another little piece of your heart. I was an adult when my 11-year-old brother was diagnosed, and I know what my parents went through. When the bad news got too much they were willing to try absolutely anything that even vaguely promised a cure.
Just to clarify, there are several kinds of cancer treatments:
The main difference between mainstream medicine and all other types of treatment is that in mainstream medicine, a new medical treatment is considered to be ineffective until it has been rigorously proven to work. A new medicinal substance is subjected to 4 stages of clinical trials before it’s released onto the market. If the small studies, performed in test tubes and mice, show promising results, the substance is given the go-ahead for trial to proceed to larger and more complex studies.
The final stage of clinical trials, in a large group of human subjects, only takes place if all the other studies are found to be flawless, and even so, the idea may be abandoned even at this stage.This process literally take years, so even if a new treatment seems promising, the chances are that ir won’t be legally available for a very long time.
The results of these studies will be published in a peer-reviewed journal; this is a place where clinical studies are put up for other doctors and researchers to scrutinise.
In other words, if you are given a treatment by a properly qualified medical doctor, you can be certain that every effort has been made to ensure the drug is safe, and that it works often enough to make it a viable option for treatment.
Research and Investigational Treatments
When clinical trials for a treatment reach the last stages, patients can sometimes take part as a research subject. By the time these human trials take place, it can be many years after the studies were begun.
A complementary therapy is a treatment that is used alongside radiation or chemotherapy, which boosts the immune system, counteracts the side-effects of certain drugs, or promotes the well-being of the patient.. There are many mainstream medicines and therapies as well as natural dietary supplements that are considered useful as complementary therapies by health professionals.
Some clinics and cancer treatment centres offer Integrative therapy, which is the blending of proven mainstream treatments and complementary methods. The complementary methods offered by these centres will be proven methods of alleviating symptoms and side effects of other medicines, or for promoting the patient’s feeling of well-being. Some of these therapies may include herbal remedies known to have a beneficial effect on nausea, such as peppermint tea, or yoga and meditation to promote well-being, or vitamin supplements to promote immune system health.
The American Cancer Society has the following to say about alternative therapies:
“Alternative therapy is used instead of mainstream treatment. Alternative therapies are either unproven because they have not been scientifically tested, or they have been disproved (that is, they have been tested and found not to work). They may cause the patient to suffer because they are not helpful, because they can delay the use of proven methods, or because they are actually harmful.The American Cancer Society urges patients who are thinking about using any alternative or complementary therapy to first discuss this with their health care team.”
The problems with alternative therapies are myriad. Of course, the main reason for being wary is that these treatments have not been proven by controlled clinical trials. Any medicine that is put forward as an alternative therapy must be labelled a supplement, and falls under different rules to a proven drug.
There is a great deal less control over supplements. As long as the ingredients are on the bottle, and the manufacturer doesn’t make direct claims that the product is a ‘cure’, they generally escape scrutiny. Nutritional supplements do not have to be tested for safety, and one bottle of the product will not always contain exactly the same amounts of active ingredient as another. In other words there are no guarantees that the product will work, or that it is safe.
This is not to say that all companies producing supplements are touting snake oil ‘cures’, there are many supplements out there which are produced by reputable companies with proven track records.
However, only your oncologist is qualified to say whether a particular therapy will be helpful in your particular situation.
A couple of questions to ask when investigating a supplement are:
1.Is the product generally available in pharmacies, or is it only available over the internet?
If the product is only available over the internet or from an independent distributor it would be best to treat it with extreme caution. Most of these products are the focus of a multilevel marketing campaign; the product itself is not the purpose of the business, the purpose is to have distributors sign up other distributors so that they can earn commission on the other distributors they sign up. You will see that the distributors are almost fanatical about the product, and react very badly to any suggestion that the product may not be all it’s touted to be.
2.Does the product promise a cure?
If it does, exercise extreme caution. Even a proven treatment with proven results for a good survival rate is not allowed to be called a ‘cure’. A cure would completely remove the cancer and it would never come back, 100 percent of the time. There are currently no drugs on the market that can claim this.
3.Does the company use scare tactics, pushy marketing or spam mail?
Do you have to sign up as a distributor in order to be able to buy it, or is the product ridiculously expensive unless you’re a reseller? Are you being promised large amounts of money as well as a cure if you sell the product?
4.Does the company claim to have a large amount of scientific backup to prove its claims for the supplement?
If this is the case, please bear in mind that a lot of the time there may be a case for a particular chemical found in that fruit, or nut, or leaf or whatever the supplement is made from, and that clinical trials may very well be in progress for that chemical.
What you need to remember is that just because an isolated chemical may have potential as a cancer drug, it doesn’t meant that eating the whole fruit, or drinking the juice or eating it in powdered form is going to have any effect at all on your particular kind of cancer (or your child’s in this case). Ask your doctor to have a look at the body of evidence; a qualified medical professional will be able to tell you if the studies are worth anything.
If you answered ‘yes’ to any of the above questions, please think very carefully before going ahead, and always follow the golden rule; consult your oncologist!Mandie Erasmus