Unproven Therapies

Why would anyone consider using unproven therapies? With over one million cases of cancer per year, thousands of doctors have tested every reasonable treatment on every type of cancer for many years. They know what works and what doesn’t. But those who know that only surgery, radiation or chemotherapy hold hope of treating someone unfortunate enough to be stricken with cancer are living twenty years in the past.

And aren’t we lucky to be living today. A hundred years ago, only surgery had the possibility of saving a person with cancer. Then radiation was introduced that saved additional lives. And in the thousands of years that cancer has been known, only some forty years ago was chemotherapy – the treatment of cancer using drugs – introduced as a routine therapy saving many, many lives each year as well as augmenting surgery and radiation. Yes, we are truly lucky to be living today.

And now scientists are starting to work with biological response modifiers. These treatments do not affect cancer directly, but stimulate the body’s own immune system so that it goes out and kills the cancer. Amazing! Who could have conceived of such a thing. Substances like interleukin, interferon, tumor necrosis factor and others are being studied and are saving many, many lives. Coming along is gene splicing and gene repair, the altering of genes that cause or could stop cancer.

But there are those who would like to propose unproven, unorthodox therapies. Anyone knows that a person with cancer, a potentially fatal disease, should not be wasting precious time thinking about unproven therapies. The idea today of using relaxation and visual imagery to help treat cancer is as ridiculous as believing 50 years ago that lying out in the sun could cause cancer, now known to be the cause of the most deadly type of skin cancer. Or trying various diets and exercise to fight is as foolish as having believed being around asbestos and not even touching it could have caused cancer, which only recently has been found to cause the worst type of lung cancer. Laughter has no more of a chance of helping than living near high power transmission lines or where there was atomic testing could have hurt, currently being studied as a cause of increased risk of various cancers. And prayer is as way out in treating cancer as smoking would have been in causing it, now known to be the greatest single cause of cancer mortality. Even if you could have imagined smoking causing cancer, believing breathing someone else’s smoke could cause cancer would be as foolish as thinking that joining a support group could extend one’s life. Today second hand smoke is a known carcinogen while it has been proven that cancer patients joining a support group live longer than those who don’t. And our doctors believe a diet of high fat content and low fiber will be an influence in causing cancer but a healthy diet and exercise probably have no bearing in fighting it. You doubt that? Ask them!

Time has proven many things we thought were innocuous or even healthy to be truly dangerous and damaging. Is it possible that there are many interventions not medically understood today that could be extremely beneficial in the future? And if some of these have nothing to do with actually destroying cancer cells directly, they might improve the quality of life for a patient by allowing a feeling of being in control of their lives. This enhancement of the quality of life could have an effect on the success of various treatments and/or the incidence or growth rate of cancer. Only time will tell.

The mind is an important factor somewhere in the equation. A few scientists in Washington and elsewhere have coined a word called psychoneuroimmunology. It implies that the mind sends messages through the nerves to enhance the immune system. And lately they have shortened it to psychoimmunology, the mind enhancing the immune system. Trials have been performed to show that the inability to cope with stress lowers the activity of natural killer cells in the immune system. Further it has been demonstrated that laughter and visual imagery have the capability of increasing the number and activity of natural killer cells. We know biofeedback can change body temperature, lower blood pressure and pulse, control pain, etc. What more it can do remains to be demonstrated.

The problem comes from the fact that we have developed orthodox treatments that are capable of successfully treating only 50% of all cancer patients. Cancer is a frightening, devastating disease. Many of the treatments are extremely debilitating and unpleasant, to say the least. A human being will naturally want to take the easy road, if one can be found. They will skip taking the proven, successful treatment in order to opt for an “easy” unproven but highly touted one. They lose the battle.

It is difficult for an out-of-control newly diagnosed patient to differentiate between psychological stimulators that could help supplement orthodox treatments and hocus pocus that separates a patient from his money and destroys. The important aspect is to see that everyone gets orthodox medical treatment. In addition, those who want to do their best to fight the disease should supplement medical treatments with whatever they believe will help and their physician says can not hurt. They should do everything in their power in addition to orthodox treatments, nothing in lieu of orthodox treatments.

At the same time, trials should be designed that determine whether various psychological interventions do or do not have a bearing on the successful treatment of cancer. In another few years, we should know what will enhance the success rate in cancer treatment and what is not worth the effort of trying. Cancer is a word, not a sentence.