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Survey: 4 in 10 Americans erroneously believe alternative therapies can cure cancer

American Society of Clinical Oncology

Almost four in 10 Americans mistakenly believe that cancer can be cured using only “alternative” therapies, such as oxygen therapy, diet, herbs, and vitamin and mineral supplements, according to a new survey by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).

Younger adults were particularly likely to hold that view. In the survey, 47 percent of people aged 18 to 37 said they thought alternative therapies alone could cure cancer versus 21 percent of people over the age of 72.

These startling findings underscore the widespread lack of scientific literacy among Americans — and the dangers that come with such ignorance. For the evidence overwhelmingly shows that alternative therapies do not cure cancer. In fact, using them in place of standard treatments can shorten the lives of cancer patients.

A Yale University study published earlier this year found, for example, that cancer patients who chose alternative medicine for their sole treatment were 2.5 times more likely be dead five years later than patients who received standard cancer treatments, such as surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and immunotherapy.

The survival difference in that study was particularly pronounced among women with non-metastatic breast cancer. Those who used alternative rather than standard treatments were five times more likely to die within five years.

“There’s no question that evidence-based cancer therapy is necessary to effectively treat the disease,” said Dr. Richard Schilsky, ASCO’s chief medical officer, in a released statement. “The vast majority of alternative therapies either haven’t been rigorously studied or haven’t been found to benefit patients.”

Financial stress

ASCO’s survey was conducted by the Harris Poll, which questioned 4,887 U.S. adults — including 1,001 cancer patients or cancer survivors — last July and August. It is the second year in a row that ASCO has commissioned this particular survey.

In addition to the results regarding attitudes toward alternative therapies, the survey also found that while many Americans (58 percent) are concerned about getting cancer, an almost equal proportion (57 percent) are worried about the financial impact that a cancer diagnosis would have on their families.

That financial anxiety was even higher (69 percent) among the cancer patients and caregivers who were surveyed — and with good reason. Almost a third of the patients said they have had to pay for at least some of their cancer treatment out of their own pockets, including 17 percent who said they’ve dipped into their savings to cover the costs.

In addition, one in five of the cancer patients (20 percent) said they had taken matters into their own hands to keep their cancer treatment costs down, such as by delaying scans (7 percent), skipping or delaying medical appointments (7 percent) and cutting prescribed pills in half (6 percent).

American Society of Clinical Oncology
Most of the patients (88 percent) said they wanted Congress to pass a law allowing Medicare to enter into direct negotiations with pharmaceutical companies to keep drug prices down. An almost equal number of the surveyed patients (86 percent) said they would also like to see the federal government regulate the price of cancer drugs to help lower costs, and many (77 percent) said U.S. residents should be permitted to buy cancer drugs from pharmacies in other countries.

Much of the financial burden related to cancer care appears to fall on the shoulders of family caregivers. Among the caregivers surveyed, 61 percent said they have taken action to help pay for the care of their loved one, including dipping into savings (35 percent), working extra hours (23 percent), making an early withdrawal from a retirement account or college fund (14 percent), taking out a second mortgage or other loan (13 percent) and selling family heirlooms (9 percent).

“It’s clear that high treatment costs are taking a serious toll not only on patients, but also on the people who care for them,” said Schilsky. “If a family member has been diagnosed with cancer, the sole focus should be helping them get well. Instead, Americans are worrying about affording treatment, and in many cases, they’re making serious personal sacrifices to help pay for their loved ones’ care.”

Other findings

Here are some other key findings from the survey:

  • More than two-thirds of the survey’s respondents who had witnessed a loved one go through cancer said that suffering or experiencing pain is their greatest concern about getting the disease themselves.
  • Three in four of the respondents (73 percent) said that any rules or regulations aimed at making opioids harder to obtain should not be applied to cancer patients.Most (69 percent) believed the benefits of using prescription opioids to manage cancer pain outweigh any risks of addiction.
  • A large proportion of the respondents (83 percent) — including 62 percent of cancer patients — said they supported the use of medical marijuana to alleviate nausea, pain and other symptoms related to cancer. But more than half of the patients in the survey (58 percent) expressed a desire for more information about medical marijuana’s benefits.
  • Most of the cancer patients (89 percent) said they believed they were receiving the best possible care for their disease, but about one in four (26 percent) said there weren’t enough doctors specializing in cancer care near where they lived. The proportion of cancer patients who expressed that concern was much higher among those living in rural areas (40 percent) than among those living in urban and suburban areas (22 percent). Indeed, patients living in rural areas typically spend 50 minutes traveling one way to see their cancer doctor, according to the survey. That compares to about 30 minutes for patients living in non-rural areas.

FMI:  You can read ASCO’s full report on the survey at the organization’s website.

Comments (12)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 11/05/2018 - 09:53 am.

    This was not much of an issue when “normal” life spans were 45 years. We’re living longer, but are perhaps not programmed biologically to last as long as many of us are lasting, coupled with the very natural desire to continue living. Pair that desire for something almost, but not quite, like immortality, with the ongoing American distrust of science and you have a kind of perfect storm of denial. And while we’re in that denial, we’d like someone else to pay for our treatment, whatever it is.

    Alternative treatments for cancer strike me in much the same way as dietary supplements. In a society as aggressively capitalistic as this one (read: greedy), it’s not surprising that there are individuals and companies more than happy to provide alternative treatments of dubious effectiveness, at varying costs, depending upon what the market will bear, for a condition that frightens virtually all of us. It’s for those 4 out of 10 that this line was written: “Sincerity of belief bears no relation to truth.”

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/05/2018 - 12:40 pm.

      Purveyors of alternatives to medical therapy are not constrained by a need to support their statements or to tell the truth (sound like someone we know?).
      And from what I’ve read, we actually evolved to live to about 35 years. Beyond that (in a natural state) our grandchildren will be grown and we will have done what is necessary to perpetuate our genes. Living longer conveys no evolutionary fitness advantage.

      • Submitted by Greg Smith on 11/05/2018 - 03:12 pm.

        Our grandchildren grown at 35? Our children would be grown or our grandchildren are born. But I see your point. Especially the Hunter male. No use when he can’t keep up. Maybe that is why female life expectancy is greater, still has a use in raising children of the tribe?

        • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/05/2018 - 03:48 pm.

          If you have a child at 13, and s/he has a child at 13, then your grandchild will be 9 when you’re 35; beyond the point where the parents will need much help, and you will be losing your own physical capabilities.
          Remember, this was before the days of birth control (even Vatican roulette), so people had their first offspring as soon as they were biologicvally capable.

          • Submitted by Greg Smith on 11/06/2018 - 07:25 am.

            First grandchild would be nine, of course how many are needed before two survive until even the tender age of nine. But your point his valid, also i believe the same reasoning supports that women would be more useful at an older age then men, hence their apparently longer lifespans

  2. Submitted by Jim Bernstein on 11/05/2018 - 02:41 pm.

    It is not just “lack of scientific literacy” that generates this kind of belief. We now live in an environment where more than half of the adult population does not trust or pay attention to reporting done by “mainstream” media and relies instead on outlets – usually via the internet – that reflect and reinforce their own biases or worldview.

    The internet – not just the click bait sites – is full of people promising that their remedies for what afflicts you are not just sound and “medically proven” but are also being hidden from the consumer by the government or medical or pharmaceutical establishment colluding to protect their medical monopoly. Americans love a good conspiracy!

    If one wonders about the efficacy of a particular therapy you can find multiple sources out there on the web where you will be reassured that you are right and medical science, physicians, and the government are all wrong.

    Significant numbers of our citizens have bought into the notion that every idea, every opinion is equally valid; no objective truth actually exists and that indeed, expertise is “usually wrong” or “close minded” to “alternative facts”.

  3. Submitted by Steven Bailey on 11/05/2018 - 08:13 pm.

    A very good friend of mine was diagnosed with breast cancer 3 years ago. She opted to go with a non standard course to save her life. She has been cancer free for 2 years and her original oncologists wanted to know what she had done. She is very well educated and smart (there is is a difference). My Dad died of cancer 3 years ago. Actually he didn’t die of cancer but of the unbelievable damage the focused radiology caused. He was 78 and had colon malignant polyps which may have never become a life threatening issue. We will never know because the treatment killed him and I have 3 friends who’s parents ended the same way. All of my friends have scientific related science degrees or advanced degrees. My Dad received treatment on the east coast at a top hospital. It took two excruciating years before my Dad passed and in that time he had a couple different Physicians. My Dad asked a lot of questions (being a brilliant Physicist) and all that got him was his doctors passing him on to someone else.

  4. Submitted by Anthony Casilio on 11/05/2018 - 11:35 pm.

    There have been numerous medical professionals, doctors and nurses alike, who have bee prosecuted and prosecuted over the years for ‘curing’ cancer since 1924. Some served time in jail while others left the country to continue curing patients. And if the current system medical standards are so effective why is it, after millions upon millions of dollars in ‘research’ cancer is more prevalent n than w than ever before. Cancer has bevome an industry. With

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/06/2018 - 09:00 am.

      Cancer is a disease of aging — as the population ages, cancer becomes more prevalent.
      And millions of dollars is small change in terms of the total amount of research being conducted. You could do a lot of research for the cost of one malfunctioning F-35. And what we really need is basic research on the mechanisms and causes of cancer, not simply applied research on treatments. And basic research is dependent upon public funding, not pharm research.
      Finally, most cancers have some remission rate. That’s why anecdotes are a poor form of evidence. Some people will survive in spite of treatments, not because of them. That’s why be have to look at numbers and research.

  5. Submitted by Robert Aminzade on 11/07/2018 - 04:11 pm.

    i can only speak from my experience.I was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2002 in Minnesota. With the help of a Doctor Peter Carrol from U.C. Med Center in San Fancisco, in one year they told me there was no cancer any more after a biopsy.
    Of course every case is different..stage..type etc., but in my case Acupuncture, diet ( no alcohol, or meat) exercise,stress reduction massage, and yoga.
    My first Doctor, who did not offer this approach, said it was a rare example of spontaneous remission. I guess it doesn’t matter which it long as it is gone.

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