Death by alternative medicine: Who’s to blame? is a great post by Respectful Insolence, one of the Science Blogs I read.
The surgeon described how he dutifully did an ultrasound-guided fine needle aspiration of the small nodule.
The results? Adenocarcinoma. Breast cancer.
Here’s where things get interesting. Apparently, this woman is a die-hard altie. And I do mean “die hard,” as she will quite likely die very hard for her beliefs. She absolutely refused any surgery or treatment for her cancer. It was explained to her that a less than 1 cm tumor with no evidence of spread to the lymph nodes carried a highly favorable prognosis, with upwards of 93% long term survival with proper surgery and adjuvant chemotherapy and/or hormonal therapy.
This woman would have none of it. She wanted to pursue “alternative” medicine. And pursue it she did, with a vengeance. For three years, she disappeared off the radar screen.
A few weeks ago, she reappeared in this surgeon’s office. In the interim, she had tried Essiac tea, homeopathy, the Hoxsey therapy, the Gerson treatment, and Reiki therapy, among others, all the while visiting various “healers.” The results? If you’ve been reading here, you can guess the result.
Her tumor had progressed.
Not only had the tumor progressed, but it had progressed a lot. When the surgeon saw her again, now more than three years after her diagnosis, her tumor had grown to 5-6 cm in size. It was now stuck to the chest wall, distorting her nipple, and ulcerating through the skin in a five centimeter area of bleeding, disgusting goo.
Let me tell you of a similar tale in our shores. The patient is a relative of a colleague of mine, an ENT surgeon. He found out about her having breast cancer. She was afraid of surgery and instead landed in the clutches of a doctor who practiced Ozone therapy.
(advanced breast cancer : picture from emedicine.com)
Ozone therapy was administered on a daily basis, each session costing RM400 or thereabouts. Apparently through out the course, the patient was not assessed for response in anyway by the doctor concerned. Eventually another relative of the patient (a nurse I believe) confronted this practitioner who hastily referred her away to a surgeon. By that time the tumour had progressed and the patient now has lymph node and liver metastases.
Breast cancer is generally quite slow growing and patients can live with advanced disease and metastases for quite some time, sometimes even for years. This gives ample opportunity for Quacks to ply their trade. The sad part is these women are being sentenced to Death by Alternative Medicine. So what can we do about it? Who’s to blame?
Do we blame the patient for making the decision? Do we as doctors blame ourselves for not trying hard to convince the patient to do so otherwise (often we can advise patients till we are blue in the face but they ultimately will make up their own minds). What about rogue physicians who undertake unorthodox practices like Ozone therapy for breast cancer? Shouldn’t they be blamed and even punished? We mentioned a high profile case in Holland where Doctors were suspended for use of Complementary medicine in a celebrity with Breast cancer. I have yet to see similar cases in Malaysia involving doctors who use unorthodox methods in cancer patients. These doctors are causing harm by denying patients a chance for proper care with proven methods. By administering ineffective unorthodox treatment, the cancer will progress to incurable stages. So should we blame the system for failing to discipline these doctors? The system here demands that patients complain about these doctors to the Malaysian Medical Council. I am waiting for the day that happens.
[tags] breast cancer, alternative medicine, ozone therapy, quack, doctor, complementary[/tags]