Why Oncologists do not support alternative therapy as the only treatment of cancer?

You will always find oncologists not supporting traditional medicines and other stuff, as the MAIN or ONLY treatment for cancer (Mark this word - 'main or only treatment'. No oncologist will have a problem, if the patient takes alternate therapy in conjunction with standard scientifically proven treatment, though it is discouraged, as it can interfere with effects of standard drugs). There is a clear reason to it.

Study of cancer does not occur in a day. An Oncologist spends a total of 12 to 14 years in becoming an oncologist (MBBS + MS/MD + Surgical/ Medical / Radiation Oncology). A background of MBBS and MS/MD helps in understanding cancer better. It took years to really understand how a cancer cell forms, reading all the research, trials, theories and everything; and most importantly, rationalizng them. And it is after this knowledge is imbibed, any oncologist knows very well that nothing works on a cancer cell. Cancer cells have IRREPARABLE genetic mutations (changes in a gene pattern) in them. By no means on earth, can one repair those genetic changes. They are permanent. When a gene rearranges itself, the original info is lost. Forever. It is not like a computer, where you press the 'back' key and you go one step back. It can never happen. Once you understand this concept, you will realize that, once a cancer cell is formed, you cannot get the original cell back from it; that cancer cell will keep on multiplying and all that you can do to a cancer cell is - kill it. If you achieve killing all cancer cells in body, you may achieve a cure. If some cancer cells survive somewhere, they will cause a recurrence. The Oncology that we practice, is based on logic. Just look at us - we are so crazy - we operate and knock off the whole organ, even if cancer is small - why?

A small lump in breast and we remove the whole breast (just an example, we very much and of course do a lot of Breast Conserving Surgery)).

A cancer in stomach, and we remove most of it.

A small ulcer in mouth, and we remove half the jaw bone or even more.

Why?? It is logic. We know it is an overkill, but we are so afraid of a cancer cell that we want to make sure the entire cancer cells in that area are removed.

Then we are worried, what about the cancer cells moving in blood and elsewhere? So we give chemo. Since cancer cells are absolutely normal cells, the only difference being they multiply fast, there is no way to identify them. So chemo drugs kills all fast multiplying cells, causing collateral damage. Cancer cells are killed. But cells of hair, which multiply fast (and deposit keratin), are affected. Cells of inner part of mouth are affected (oral ulcers), cells on intestine are affected (diarrhoea), wbc's get affected (neutropenia and fever), systems get depressed (weakness).

Also, chemotherapy or radiation therapy will kill only those cells which are actively dividing. They cannot act on cells which are 'silent' and in the resting phase. Some cancer cells remain dormant for quite some time and escape these treatments. So, if chemo and radiation course is over, and some cells remain even after that, they can become active again, which causes a recurrence (just to generalize, there are many other reasons as well). The higher the stage to start with, the more the chances that more and more cells will be 'dormant' or 'sleeping' for a while. And hence, the higher the stage to begin with, the higher the chance of a recurrence. To also mention here, there is no test which can check for such dormant cells. CTC (Circulating Tumour Cells) test has a lot of promise and may be of use in future.

Butt why, why all this?? Just because we have no means of differentiating a cancer cell from a normal cell. But we want to kill cancer cells. So even at the cost of some damage of normal cells, we generally bombard everything to make sure cancer cells get cleared.

It is this concept, which takes time to imbibe. And it is for this reason, that oncologists, who during their degree studies, have read all this, and know it, that they do not support alternate treatments. Oncologists treat cancer AFTER they have achieved understanding of how it occurs and spreads. People who preach alternate treatments, by no means, have studied how a cancer occurs, nor have read (some might have read). They have just anecdotal knowledge and passed on knowledge that give this and it may work in cancer. Most people practicing alternate treatments do not even know how does their medicine act and what will it do to a cancer cell. If they say, they will 'cure' a cancer cell, they are fooling, as even God cannot do it. As I mentioned earlier, all you can do to a cancer cell is - kill it. And it is a known fact, that many alternate medications contain steroids, which temporarily can slow down cancer growth and also produce a 'good feeling'. But that causes more harm than benefit.

It is common to see people selling medicines which 'increase' immunity. This is sheer nonsense. There is no tablet in the world which will increase your immunity (and there is no tablet in the world, which will reduce weight either, one has to burn calories for that). Immunity depends on body's inner strength and a healthy well being with a balanced state of mind. But these alternate treatment preachers, take advantage of hopeless situation of a cancer patient, especially those in terminal stages, giving false hopes, and extract money from them. I had one of my own patients, who confessed of having brought a bottle of ten capsules for Rs. 5000/ at least five times from a local hakim!! Can you believe this! He spent 25000 in those capsules which he does not even know what it contains.

If someone tells you, he has found a cure for cancer and his tablets work, think twice.

If you really want to know, what alternate treatments do to a cancer patient, just come one day and sit at the registration counter of Tata Memorial Centre. Practically, every third or fourth patient coming to Tata, has taken some alternate treatment for cancer for a few months and then the cancer progressed to such a stage, that it is incurable now (it would have been curable earlier), and we usually end up sending them back home the same day, as it has progressed beyond all forms of treatment in those few months. Don't take my words for this. Go for yourself and see.

No oncologist has any grudge against alternate medicines, we just request, why don't you prove it! It takes a few hundred stage 4 cancer patients with their due permission (after ethical committee permission) and some years, thats all!! One homeopathy centre chap from Mumbai was spamming this forum with homeopathy medicines. I had to ban him. Since he was from Mumbai, he traced my mobile number, called me and abused me a lot on phone. I didnt retaliate, I just told him, I trust you, I will help you conduct a trial, I will start it for you, lets do it and you can prove your medicine is working; but he continued to abuse me and spoke irrelevantly, telling me "You Oncologists dont trust us, you do not care for patients, you dont want progress, you just want a dying patient's money, its because of you all cancer is still not curable and blah.... blah..." and the language he used was not even suitable for a doctor. I never lost my cool. But he didnt agree for a trial and why?? Even he knows, his medicines don't work.

I am not saying all oncologists are good.

I am not saying that everything that an oncologist does is correct; there are many errors they also learn from. Life is a continuous process of growth and learning.

I am not saying oncologists are not corrupt. Many of them are very money minded and do not have a human touch.

I am not even saying, do not go for these medications. If you wish, take these alternate medicines, but also continue standard treatment side by side. DO NOT substitute standard and proven treatment with alternate medicines.

All I am saying is, if someone claims treatment and 'cure' of cancer from his alternate medicines, just be aware. Try to think. Our discussion is between alternate treatment and standard scientifically proven treatment over last 80 years, which has shown it's result in the form of almost 80 percent overall ten year survival rate from breast cancer in the West! India is nowhere near that and we have a long way to go. If we give in to unproven treatments, we will never achieve that. It will take us a minimum 30 to 40 years to achieve the same, provided, at least 75% patients report on time and at least 75% patients take standard treatment on time. Till then, we will keep on losing a large number of women to breast cancer, who end up late or who do not take standard treatment.

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10 Replies

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  • Thank you Dr. Shah for showing us a window from a Doctors point of view.

  • Doctor I agree with you fully. As it is we have so much on our hands, so I think nothing which is not clinically proven should be tried.

  • Well conveyed the truth...these message should reach every ears. No one should be cheated.

  • This is by far the clearest and fairest exposition about alternative medicines. Thank you, Dr Sumeet.

  • This is an eye opener... so many people have actually lost their near & dear ones because they have been trapped with such alternate medicines. By the time they realise it's too late....

    Even I was told abt a place somewhere near Nasik, where they claim they can provide 100% cure for cancer with help of Ayurveda.. but I didn't go for it...

    Thanks Dr. Sumeet for guiding us the right path...

  • I had to agree to this to a greater extend, after understanding the cell theory.....which in layman's terms, Dr. Shaw had explained very well...

    Rather than a complete alternative treatment to treat cancer, the supplementary treatments,such as acupuncture seems to work for certain harsh side effects caused by chemo treatment. My Oncologist, supported that and any other medications either Ayurveda or Homeopathic, is a NO GO while we are on treatment. The medicare team wishes and wanted a quality life for patients provided the medicines does not interact with chemo, they say yes. In my case I am taking "plant enzyme" for my digestive ailements.. The pharmacist and Nutrition Dietetics who were part of medicare team, went through the ingredients and confirmed that none of these interact with chemo medicines I am on and they allowed me to take that. Not sure it is what solved my digestive issues....but i felt better after taking for a week.

    All the other treatments for cancer are still only on research papers....nothing has been proved as a solid alternative treatment to cure the cancer. More clinical trials are required for sure.

    PK

  • I have to laugh, as another PK, that I am not the only one who sometimes uses the Western spelling of Dr. Shah's name. I couldn't figure out why my e mails were bouncing!

    Thisis a wonderful explanation about why one needs to look at traditional medicine when dealing with cancer. It's a battle I often fight with others in my leukemia/lymphoma groups as well. Everyone wants an easy fix and so many look for alternative treatments or approaches - if you just drink enough green tea, take Tumeric, try massive doses of vitamin D, etc. you can prevent your leukemia/lymphoma from progressing. Those are the more common ones. There are the extreme diets, and coffee enemas, and all manner of more

    extreme approaches as well. The same is true with breast cancer, sadly.

    At my cancer center there are now MDs of integrative medicine who work with oncologists and hematologists if someone wants to try something in addition to traditional medicine, or to just improve their diet and exercise routine. There is also a center of East West medicine. All of the doctors work together to find the best of each approach to help patients without setting up conflicting treatments when a patient feels strongly about trying additional approaches.

    I hope that there is a way during Breast Cancer Awareness Month for this article to be distributed far and wide! Lives depend on it!

    Pat Kennedy

  • thanks sir for an informative article,cleared a lot of doubts.but people still want to go for the ayurvedic or homeopathic treatment once the standard treatment of chemo,radiation is over.god bless them...

  • Anything in consultation with the oncologist is fine. yes you are right manish people do get disappointed and desperate at times and go for just about anything. Besides many cannot afford the costs of chemo so they fall for such things. Its sad but that is how it is.

  • Agree with you whole heartedly.

    Paclitaxel is chemo derived from some plant.It requires about 1000 kgs of this plant to make a single dose of chemo.Who on earth can eat this volume of ayurveda to derive equivalent result.Besides 12 such chemo cycles are required over 3 months.

    Ayurveda may be good but can not substitute allopathy.

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