Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Alternative cancer therapies

I’m reading a fascinating book, Outsmart Your Cancer, that summaries dozens of “alternative” cancer treatments, some of which I’ve heard of (e.g. laetrile, Mexican cancer clinics), and many that were new to me. When you veer off the well-worn path of the “mainstream” medicine you’ll get from your local hospital, you are on shaky ground, easy prey for money-grubbing quacks and hucksters. I don’t know to what degree some of these therapies fit that bill (Quackwatch doesn’t think much of anything in this book), but I thought it was interesting for several reasons:

  • People in desperate medical situations are often much more open-minded than the rest of us are. What, literally, do they have to lose?
  • I don’t understand why the FDA or other regulatory bodies need to be involved with diseases that conventional medicine finds incurable (which is the case for many early-stage and probably most late-stage cancers). If the patient has nothing to lose, it seems to me it would be far better to encourage more experimentation, and have the FDA just keep score, to ensure that if an alternative treatment shows promise, at least we can have good record-keeping on who tried it and the results.
  • Some of the far-out approaches (the Rife Machine, 714X) rely on a micro-organism explanation for cancer. Since I’m intrigued by Paul Ewald's idea that cancer is an infection, I’d like to understand more about what happened with these various explanations.

So much of modern medicine is driven by top-down methods: big, expensive trials and therapies organized by large pharmaceutical companies, regulated by large bureaucracies, it makes me wonder what might have happened if medicine were much more of a free-for-all, where various cancer treatments really competed with one another purely on efficacy. No doubt, a lot of money would be wasted on charlatans, but if your mainstream doctor can’t cure you either, why is that a big deal?