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Complementary cancer therapies associated with decreased survival



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Cancer patients using complementary therapies tend to shun conventional treatments and risk their chances of survival, studies show.

A study of 1

,290 patients in the US found that people who received such therapies often denied life-saving treatments such as chemo or surgery

Few of them survived five years after starting treatment compared to patients with standard care researchers.

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Researchers said the use of complementary therapies ranging from diets, minerals and vitamin supplements to yoga and acupuncture, grew in the US, but there was limited research on how effective they are.

In their study published in JAMA Oncology, 258 patients receiving complementary therapies with at least one standard treatment were compared to 1,032 who received conventional treatment alone.

The study found a lower proportion of those who received complementary therapy had survived five years after starting treatment – 82.2% compared to 86.6%.

Independently, they were found to die more than twice as likely to die of the disease at any one time during the course of the nine-year study as a result of either refusal or delay of treatment

Comparing Individuals to Complementary Therapies with those who did not, the report found:

  • 34% refused chemotherapy compared to 3.2%
  • 53% refused radiotherapy versus 2.3%
  • 7% refused surgery compared to 0.1%

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Experts said it was important not to replace conventional treatments with alternative therapies

The authors of the paper said it was likely that the results would have been worse for those using complementary therapies if it were not for a group that had better cancer survival chances.

They were more women, younger, wealthier and healthier, the authors of the study noted.

Although researchers associate the lesser chances of survival with the rejection or delay of standard treatments, the author Skyler Johnson of the Yale School of Medicine told the BBC that it is also possible that some alternative treatments might interact with conventional treatments and make them less effective.

The study had no data on the exact therapies that people used, but the available information indicated that it was more likely treatments such as vitamin infusions or mineral supplements, rather than things like yoga or massage.

"The reality is that despite the fact that many patients believe that these types of unproven therapies will improve their survival and may even improve their chances of recovery, there is really no evidence to support this claim …" said Dr , Johnson.

"Although they can be used to support patients with symptoms of cancer treatment, it appears that they are either marketed or understood as effective cancer treatments."

Martin Ledwick, head of the Information Division of Cancer Research UK, added therapies that could improve the well-being or quality of life of some patients.

"But it's important that patients who look at them do not see them as an alternative to traditional treatments that have been shown in clinical trials that make a real difference to survival," he said.

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