Cancer care

Cancer patients persuaded against chemo in favour of alternatives

More than one in ten cancer patients receiving chemotherapy are being told not to have it by advocates of alternative therapies, a Queensland study has found.

Anti-chemotherapy advice was given to ten of 75 patients with solid tumours starting curative-intent chemotherapy by complementary medicine practitioners, family and friends who instead recommended the use of complementary therapies, researchers at Sunshine Coast University Hospital report.

Their findings presented at COSA18 in Perth showed that two female patients, with stage II breast cancer, did not complete chemotherapy after receiving advice from a chiropractor and a naturopath.

Advice against chemotherapy was also provided by aromatherapists, friends, partners and a Facebook friend to the ten patients with solid tumours , mostly breast and testicular cancers.

The findings reveal the extent of pressure faced by cancer patients over their treatment decisions, says lead author Dr Peter Smith (PhD) an oncology pharmacist at the Adem Crosby Centre at Sunshine Coast University Hospital.

A plethora of pseudoscientific articles peddling myths about cancer and chemotherapy widely available on the internet are fuelling the problem, he told the limbic.

“These patients have a lot to contend with notwithstanding mixed advice, especially if it’s from a family member who is very strident in their opinions of what they should or shouldn’t do,” Dr Smith said.

“The nocebo effect is alive and well, so if you convince someone that they are going to fill themselves with poisons and they are doing the wrong thing, it can at least cause great anxiety for a patient who is trying to make some really big decisions in a timely way.”

However he cautioned that the study was conducted in a region of Queensland where use of complementary therapies is popular and might not be representative of all Australia.

The study showed that  60% of patients starting chemotherapy were using some form of complementary therapy and 27% were taking products such as vitamins, minerals, herbs and supplements with the potential to interact with chemotherapy or reduce its therapeutic effects.

Dr Smith noted that 84% of patients said they would have liked information on which CAM is safe to use before starting their treatment. In response, his team have developed an evidence-based brochure on safe use of complementary medicine during chemotherapy, which has been well received by oncologists and haematologists, who report it enables them to answer patients’ questions about complementary treatments.

Surgical oncologist Professor Christobel Saunders said anecodotal evidence suggested an increasing number of cancer patients were refusing treatment in favour of alternative therapies suggested by others.

“I’ve had patients where there has definitely been coercion from other family members, husband or whatever and occasionally mental health issues, but very rarely,” she told Perth Now.

Delaying treatment meant patients were presenting in the more advanced stages of cancer when there are fewer treatment options for them, she said.

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