Complementary Treatment in Cancer: Use or Avoid it?

One year after JAMA Oncology paper has been published (Complementary Medicine, Refusal of Conventional Cancer Therapy, and Survival Among Patients With Curable Cancers. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2018.2487) the debate on complementary / alternative therapy in cancer still survives.

It is a clear example of how statistics can be misleading in scientific publications. Data from nearly 2 million patients of the National Cancer Database with nonmetastatic breast, prostate, lung, or colorectal cancer showed patients who used complementary therapy died earlier than those who did not used. Right, complementary is not good for cancer patients. Wrong! let’s take a closer look at this paper.

When measures of treatment adherence were included, complementary therapies were no longer associated with an increased risk of death. The greater risk of death is therefore linked to its association with treatment refusal. In addition, patients using complementary therapies were in more advanced stages of cancer, another very strong bias for increasing the death risk. Moreover, only breast and colorectal cancer showed a positive association, which disappeared when confounding variables where taken into account.

This information should be addressed to complementary therapy providers so they can certify patients are not denying conventional therapies, increasing their risk of death. What still lies without response is how much quality of life is affected by complementary therapies in this study.

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