Nearly 4 in 10 Americans (39%) “somewhat” or “strongly” agree that cancer can be cured solely through “alternative” therapies, such as oxygen therapy, diet, and herbs, without standard cancer treatments, according to a national survey commissioned by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).
The survey, which probed public opinion about a variety of cancer-related issues, was conducted online by the Harris Poll in July and August 2018. It involved 4887 US adults aged 18 years and older. Among the respondents were 1001 persons who currently have cancer or who have had cancer in the past.
ASCO gave top billing to the survey responses about alternative therapies. “Correcting widespread misinformation about cancer treatments” is one of a number of critical, urgent issues in oncology, said the organization’s president, Monica Bertagnolli, MD, in a press statement.
These findings are not only shocking but incredibly disturbing. Dr Skyler Johnson
“These findings are not only shocking but incredibly disturbing,” said Skyler Johnson, MD, of the Yale Cancer Center at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, who was approached for comment.
However, Johnson added that an “actual [treatment] decision” — and its “life-limiting consequences” — are different from answering a survey, which has “virtually no negative consequences.”
Still, the survey results are proof of the “rampant misinformation” about cancer treatments among the public, said Johnson.
Cancer patients are “often inundated” with recommendations about alternative medicine cures, he said, from well-meaning friends, family members, and even random acquaintances, “despite no evidence to support these claims.
“My wife experienced this first hand through her cancer diagnosis. My brother-in-law is experiencing it now during his cancer treatment,” said Johnson.
Johnson emphasized that a strong belief in the curative powers of alternative medicine for cancer can be disastrous.
He and colleagues reported a study last year that restrospectively analyzed outcomes in patients with early-stage cancers of various types and found a 2.5-fold higher risk for death among those who rejected conventional medicine and received only alternative treatments, compared with those who received conventional cancer treatment. When they conducted an analysis of specific cancer types, the risk was even higher — a sixfold increased risk for death among breast cancer patients and a 4.5-fold increase among colorectal cancer patients who used only alternative therapies.
“If this survey accurately reflects beliefs of the American public, it is alarming that so many mistakenly believe that alternative medicine can cure cancer,” said David Gorski, MD, PhD, of the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, who is also managing editor of Science-Based Medicine .
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