|James Metz, MD|
|Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania|
| Last Modified: September 11, 2013
Unconventional medical treatments for cancer are routinely presented to patients and the public though television, the Internet, magazines and newspapers. Some unconventional therapies may one day prove to help cancer patients. Therapies are classified as 'alternative' or 'unconventional' because they have not been proven to benefit cancer patients in controlled clinical trials. It is a challenge to differentiate those techniques that offer promise from those that are hoaxes.
Many individuals claim that natural products are better to combat cancer than conventional treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery. Poison ivy is natural, but most patients would not go and rub it intentionally all over their body. Rattlesnakes are natural, but most patients would not try to be bitten by one. Obviously, just because something is natural does not mean it is effective and safe. It is true that many of the therapies used today were discovered in nature. For instance, a commonly used chemotherapy medication called paclitaxel came from the bark of the Yew tree. The compound has been copied and can now be synthetically produced. Natural compounds used for cancer treatment have been isolated, standardized, and purified. They have also been rigorously tested in controlled clinical trials to establish the effectiveness of the agent and its side effect profile.
Cancer patients are prime targets for unscrupulous individuals who attempt to gain financially from the misfortunes of others. Always remember, if a treatment sounds too good to be true, it may be a hoax. Here are some classic signs of a hoax that should put a cancer patient on alert:
If you are considering an alternative or complementary treatment be cautious and aware of any of the above claims. Always tell your doctor if you are considering any such treatment. Certain treatments may be helpful but others may interfere with your traditional treatments.