Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Of Sound Mind and Free Will

"Literally half her face had been eaten away by cancer. The family had been told by the alternative-health provider that it was a good sign, because it meant the treatment was drawing the cancer out of the body."
"She ended up dying in hospital before we could do the surgery."
Dr. Leigh Sowerby, ear, nose and throat surgeon, London, Ontario

"He has many specialized protocols that he has seen work well. Prolonging life, increasing quality of life, stabilizing tumours and the disease progression, and shrinking tumours."
Assistant to naturopath Neil McKinney, Victoria, British Columbia

"This is exactly what I do [taking on cancer patients]."
"We [also] sometimes shrink the tumours enough that the surgeon can get them out. I had a case like this recently -- sarcoma that was considered incurable, reduced to a point where it was curable."
Neil McKinney, naturopath

"The tumour grew and it actually was coming out of her skin from the breast site. From a potentially curable situation, she went off to an incurable situation, with only palliative care possible."
Dr. Jawaid Younus, medical oncologist, London Health Sciences Centre
AP    Donna Flasch holds a photo of her sister Leslee Flasch, who died of rectal cancer at age 53 after rejecting surgery and turning to a special diet and supplements.

Steve Jobs had thought it best for himself when he delayed surgery for a treatable form of pancreatic cancer in favour of seeing whether acupuncture and other non-medical remedies might do the job and obviate the need for conventional treatment. The result was predictably fatal for him. This was a man with creative technical intellect who had enjoyed immense commercial success in his field of work. His lack of trust in the scientific professionalism of the specialized medical community cost him his life.

He is just one among many. Although no systematic national tracking takes place of people choosing other means rather than conventional medicine to try to treat their medical conditions, research out of Alberta suggests that one in every 100 breast-cancer patients rejects standard care. In so doing, doubling the likelihood of death occurring. Applying that finding to all new cancer diagnoses suggests that several thousand Canadians expose themselves to such risks annually.

Alternative practitioners appear under no obligation to warn patients of the dangers related to spurning medical cancer care. They choose not to turn away those requiring immediate intervention by a practising physician, agreeing to take them on themselves. And although a spokesman for the College of Naturopaths of Ontario tasked with regulating the profession says its members' "scope of practise" does not include treating cancers on their own, such practitioners appear to practise as curers.

All too many Canadian naturopaths actively promote their membership in the Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians, an affiliate requiring no training above the profession's fundamental four-year program. According to an informal survey, many of them are quite willing to treat patients who have decided to forego treatment by oncologists, trained for five years after medical school in that specialty.

Dr. Younus is not completely averse to traditional medicine allying with alternative medicine. He cites research supporting the use of hypnotherapy to help curb menopausal symptoms that can be caused by some drugs, and reducing pain caused by others. And Acupuncture is acknowledged as sometimes helping with treatment-related pain, while ginseng can help to counter fatigue, he explains.

Those people who have been diagnosed with advanced, terminal cancers are not likely to be given a longer lease on life through modern medicine. In those instances they have little to risk by rejecting chemotherapy or radiation and opting instead to try an alternative. It is those patients who will benefit from science-based treatment, however, and choose instead to favour questionable alternative treatments that trouble medical doctors.

Radiation oncologist Dr. Kurian Joseph at the University of Alberta speaks of a patient who had rejected treatment once her breast cancer had spread to her shoulder, in the fear she might damage the nerves leading to her hand. On her return eighteen months later the disease was in its late stage, with fluid in her chest. "It was a disastrous situation. She told me, 'I made a mistake'... She died two months later."

Dr. Joseph examined records for breast-cancer patients in the province of Alberta's northern health region for the period 1980 to 2006, discovering 1.2 percent of patients had declined treatment. That translated to only 43 percent of those women remaining alive after five years, in comparison to the 80 percent of women at a similar disease stage who had received conventional treatment.

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