Journalists seem to have a difficult time reporting the latest medical findings. Headlines often serve as click-bait rather than conveying accuracy. Last week, news coverage describing a study that investigated different treatment options for early-stage prostate cancer is one such case that generated some alarming and contradictory headlines.
In the reported study, researchers randomized 1643 men aged 50 to 69 years with stage T1c disease about evenly into three treatment groups: 1) active cancer surveillance; 2) prostatectomy; and 3) radical radiotherapy. The study indicated that patient survival rates were equally high at 99% across the treatment groups after a median follow-up time of ten years. There was a significant difference, however, in metastasis frequency and disease progression between the active surveillance group and the two treatment groups.
Men who choose active surveillance of their localized prostate cancer may regret their decision. If prostate cancer metastasizes, curable treatments are no longer available, and these men may suffer painful symptoms of their cancer spreading into adjacent tissues or throughout their bodies. They may further suffer complicated side effects of life-long androgen-deprivation therapy.
The New York Times did a nice job reporting the study with the headline “Prostate Cancer Study Details Value of Treatments.” You should take from this headline that treating early-stage prostate cancer is beneficial. Treatment seems to improve quality of life and living beyond ten years without metastatic disease.
But maybe a different headline you read conveyed the idea that treating early-stage prostate cancer is irrelevant. CBS News reported, “Study, no evidence that treating early prostate cancer makes a difference.” The study’s details that treatment may be helpful beyond the ten-year mark were buried deep in the text.
The study’s nuanced results are understandably difficult to convey in a ten- to twelve-word headline. I can easily see how one consequence of such oversimplified science journalism is that patients may be more easily driven into the care of alternative medical practitioners, who offer superfluous, implausible, and disproven treatments. In my time practicing with a naturopathic cancer practitioner, I’ve seen this sort of information hi-jacking used to convince patients that alternative medicine offers real hope in treating cancer.
One egregious case in point: the American Board of Naturopathic Oncology (ABNO) relies on undermining the importance of conventional cancer treatment by perpetuating the falsehood that “modern medicine has made little advance in its War on Cancer.” According to this group, its self-anointed alternative “oncologists” can effectively and safely treat cancer using “various supplements or dietary concepts” that make “medical treatments more effective” and cause “cancer cells to self-destruct.”
Look no further than the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) for examples of dubious cancer treatments being peddled by such “oncologists.” In a recent blog post titled “Six Naturopathic Methods to Combat Prostate Cancer”, naturopath Geo Espinosa outlines “six quick things a CaP [prostate cancer] patient should consider” for “beating CaP [prostate cancer].”
The therapies outlined in the post are staples of naturopathic care: 1) supplementation with anti-oxidants such as vitamins C and E and Coenzyme Q10; 2) reducing “systemic inflammation” through changing the diet; 3) non-medical detoxification with herbs and hydrotherapy; 4) limiting exposure to environmental toxins such as cigarette smoke and non-organic meat; 5) “immune boosting” supplements like mushroom extract; and 6) “cancer-killing” substances like turmeric and modified citrus pectin.
Let’s get one thing straight. No naturopathic therapy has ever been proven to cure cancer or improve outcomes with standard-of-care treatments. But in no uncertain terms, naturopath Espinosa writes that incorporating naturopathy into a cancer treatment regimen can “increase the chances of better recovery among CaP [prostate cancer] sufferers and slow it [sic] progression.” It seems that such propaganda is nothing more than a means to establish the basis for health fraud.
The fact is that we only learned in the last week that if patients aged between 50 and 69 years with early-stage prostate cancer elect to undergo active monitoring, they have a 99% chance that their prostate cancer will not kill them over ten-years. Although, curative treatment seems to be better in the long-run. For naturopaths it seems that long ago one of them just made up those six alternative treatments, and it became their dogma. In the naturopathic community, such a belief is as good as any high-quality systematic review.
What deviance for Espinosa and the AANP to suggest that naturopaths can manage the ins and outs of treating prostate cancer! On his own website, Espinosa refers to himself as a “prostate cancer strategist,” as if there is a strategy beyond treatments based in scientific evidence. He writes that he will make “the process [of treatment] simpler and clearer for you.”
That’s a bold statement considering that Espinosa has received no medical oncology training and does not hold a license to practice medicine in New York state where he runs a clinic. What sort of “prostate cancer specialist” is he? I would say that he’s not to be trusted.
Naturopathic cancer therapies are not part of standardized medical protocols derived from evidence-based guidelines or scientific consensus. But, they are being integrated into prostate cancer treatments by naturopathic doctors. Poor reporting of the latest findings of clinical trials emboldens such quacks.
If you are considering alternative medicine to treat cancer or know someone who is, please read this article I wrote for Quality Cancer Treatment – A Website for Patients.