When someone is diagnosed with cancer, they are likely to be recommended some combination of: surgery; chemotherapy; radiotherapy, and, more recently; immunotherapy. These treatments are the conventional cancer treatments and are heavily used because they have been shown to be the most effective. There is, however, a whole other world of complimentary and alternative cancer treatments (CAMs).

I recently considered complimentary cancer therapies. These are used alongside conventional cancer treatments and, some of them at least, have the potential to make your life as a cancer patient a little bit easier. Many of them are not cheap, of course. And many of them are not properly regulated. But, providing you do your research, and you’ve got the money to spare, it’s possible to get some benefit from complimentary cancer therapies.

But, what about alternative cancer therapies? How do they stack up?

As I explained in that previous post:

In contrast to conventional treatments, alternative treatments are not offered by medical professionals. Alternative medicine is used instead of conventional medicine. Alternative treatments offer a range of options, which have not undergone effective human testing or been peer-reviewed. For the most part, they have either not been shown to work, or been shown not to work.

I’m going to be clear up front, here, I have very little time for alternative cancer therapies. These are treatments that are demonstrably less effective that conventional treatments, and they’re still not cheap.

Not cheap at all.
Photo by Pepi Stojanovski on Unsplash

The only reason that I have any time at all for alternative cancer therapies, is because of a choice that I’ll never have to face. I live in the UK, which has a Universal Heath Care system, the NHS. That means that I get all my conventional cancer treatments provided, free at the point of delivery. This, in turn, means that I will never be faced with having to decide between paying for medication, or for something else. Like house payments… or food!

Of course, the NHS isn’t actually free, the whole country pays for it through taxation. Due to this arrangement, certain medications and treatments aren’t available on the NHS because they’re simply too expensive. Accordingly, while the NHS is an amazing service, it is not able to provide all the available options. 

Not that this directly impacts on me, because I also have private medical care to turn to, if I need it. I’m not trying to brag, here, I’m simply pointing out that I’m in a very fortunate position, by terminal cancer patient standards, and I’m aware of that fact.

The reason that this is important is that many people, in many countries, are not as fortunate as I am. Other terminal cancer patients may not have free access to conventional cancer treatments. They may also not have medical insurance to get access to conventional cancer treatments that way. And they may not be able to afford to raise the money for the conventional cancer treatments that they need.

Simply put, for some people, conventional cancer treatment is not an option.

So, what can a person in this situation do?

There must be other options… there must be something they can try… something out there must be able to offer them the hope they so desperately need.

There is. There’s a whole industry of soulless vultures, circling around desperate cancer patients everywhere, just waiting to tear off their pound of flesh.

They might not look hungry but, no matter how much they get, they’re never satisfied.
Photo by Casey Allen on Unsplash

This is Alt Pharma. The people peddling pseudo science, snake oil and quackery, What they describe as alternative cancer therapies. 

As you might be able to tell, I’m not a fan!

A large part of this is down to the breath-taking hypocrisy of the people involved. The conspiracy theory spun by Alt Pharma is that Big Pharma, the pharmaceutical industry, has had the cure for cancer for decades. But Big Pharma won’t release the cure. Instead, they’re making billions by selling chemotherapy, which is designed to make you worse, not better, thereby increasing their own profits.

Now, don’t get me wrong here, I fully accept that the pharmaceutical industry are a bunch of gouging, money-grabbing bastards. That’s one of the realities of Capitalism: companies will try and make as much money as they can. If you live in a capitalist country, and don’t like this aspect of it, you are free to move to a country with a different system. You can also seek to alter the system of your country, from within. Maybe get yourself elected to Government and make changes.

But I genuinely have no desire to get embroiled in politics, so; I’ll leave that up to you.

Going back to the pharmaceutical industry, globally it’s worth more than a trillion dollars a year. I’m going to write that as a number, to help it make sense: $1,000,000,000,000 (£767,000,000,000, €890,000,000,000) a year. That’s an awful lot of money, by anyone’s standards. How can you trust an industry with that much money?

Well, for a start, by putting it into context. This isn’t one organisation, it’s thousands of them. From every country in the World. All competing against each other for their share of the market. That is ‘Big Pharma’!

Thousands of organisations, competing against each other in dozens of languages. What Alt Pharma never explains is which of these companies has the cure for cancer. I mean, where is the patent for it? If there’s no patent, then there’s nothing to stop someone else developing the cure and just giving it away…

Big Pharma having the cure for cancer is such an obviously idiotic concept that it gives Flat Earthers a run for their money.

Additionally, chemotherapy isn’t even one of the biggest selling drugs on Big Pharma’s books:

Why all the conspiracy about chemotherapy? Why not anti-diabetics?
https://blog.marketresearch.com/the-growing-pharmaceuticals-market-expert-forecasts-and-analysis

I think that people tend to forget that chemotherapy is just another medicine. It’s nothing special, really. There are plenty of other dangerous medicines. There are plenty of other expensive medicines. But then cancer does effect one out of every two people in their lives. So cancer does give plenty of particularly vulnerable targets for anyone unscrupulous enough to take advantage.

Which brings me back to the utter hypocrisy of Alt Pharma. Yes, the global value of Big Pharma is $1 trillion dollars. But the global value of complimentary and alternative medicines is more than $200 billion. Sure, this is still only a fifth of Big Pharma. And, sure, this figure includes both complimentary and alternative treatments. But it still flies very much in the face of the position Alt Pharma has adopted. That is the little guy trying to tell the truth in the lies bought by big industry.

Alt Pharma is big industry.

And I completely understand that this, too, is one of the realities of Capitalism. Alt Pharma has just as much right as Big Pharma to try and make money. And if the Alt Pharma business model is based around the concept of, ‘Let the buyer beware‘, then that is also their right.

In fact, the only real difference between Alt Pharma and Big Pharma, is that Big Pharma is selling you something that might actually work…

So, while I don’t like it, I get that Alt Pharma sells hope to those people who can’t afford the stuff that works. And, as I’ve mentioned before, the Placebo Effect is very real. Sometimes placebos can make people feel better. So, sometimes, the hope that comes from taking something that doesn’t really do anything, is enough to make a patient feel better. For a while, at least.

And for the people who get a benefit, I feel nothing but happiness.

For the vast majority of people, who just get their bank accounts emptied, I feel nothing but sadness.

But, Alt Pharma doesn’t stop there, it also goes after people who are actually receiving conventional treatments. People like me.

Me, getting myself some chemotherapy. Without this, I’d be long dead…

I’m pretty active on the question and answer site, Quora, where I talk about the same sort of things that I do here. Quite often I will answer questions about my experiences with conventional treatments. These questions are often asked by people who have just received their cancer diagnosis. The problem is that anyone can answer these questions. Which is why this sort of question is often littered with answers from people trying to drive cancer patients to alternative cancer therapies. The answers often include links to sites where the Alt Pharma is being sold.

Even more than that, though, these Alt Pharma advocates will also put comments on my answer. They try to persuade me to abandon my conventional treatment, in favour of some alternative cancer therapy that even the briefest bit of research will show won’t work. This, despite the fact that my answer includes the information that I am on palliative care and that the only thing that’s kept me alive to date, has been my surgery and chemotherapy. And yet these people are still trying to drive me to Alt Pharma sites.

And I take this personally.

Because, to my mind, these people are trying to kill me. They’re trying to move me away from the free medicine that has been keeping me alive, to a medicine that I’ll have to pay for, that won’t keep me alive. Doing what these people suggest will shorten my life. And if they’re trying to shorten my life, they’re trying to kill me. Simple as that.

And for what? Something that they know won’t work.

The only way I can think of, that they can get away with this, is that you can’t sue them when you’re dead. And it must be very difficult to conclusively prove that someone died from one of these alternative cancer therapies. Besides, if Alt Pharma is targeting people without the money to afford conventional medicine, they must be safe in the knowledge that the people these patients leave behind won’t be able to afford to pay for an inquest. Not least because all of their available money is now in the coffers of Alt Pharma.

And these people have the audacity to question the motives of Big Pharma…!

I’d like to quote the Cancer Research UK site on alternative cancer therapies:

“There is no scientific or medical evidence to show that alternative therapies can cure cancer. Some alternative therapies are unsafe and can cause harmful side effects. Or they may interact with your conventional medical treatment. This could increase the risk of harmful side effects or may stop the conventional treatment working so well. Giving up your conventional cancer treatment could reduce your chance of curing or controlling your cancer.

Some alternative therapies sound promising but the claims are not supported by scientific evidence and can give some people false hope.

It’s the pseudoscience behind alternative cancer therapies that makes them enticing. A news report will come out with something to the effect of, ‘A recent study has shown that CBD has shown promise as a potential cure for cancer.’

Invariably, the study will refer to laboratory tests, usually on cancer cells in a test tube. On rare occasions, it’ll refer to pre-clinical trials in lab animals like rats. This means that there have not been any clinical studies. No human trials. Which, in turn, means that even if CBD does lead to a cure, it won’t be on the market for the number of years it takes to get through clinical trials. Yet, a CBD based ‘cure’ will be offered by Alt Pharma within weeks.

To make matters worse, the CBD products being offered by Alt Pharma will bear no resemblance to the tests that were conducted. For example, CBD oil applied directly to certain cancer tumours may, indeed, shrink said tumours. This does not mean that inhaling or ingesting CBD will do the same thing. Yet, that’s how it’s promoted. ‘CBD cures cancer’ is the story being sold: ‘look at this report, if you don’t believe me’. The ‘report’ will be the newspaper opinion piece, not the actual study.

It amazes me how many people seem to believe that smoking this stuff is a cure for cancer.
Photo by Drew Taylor on Unsplash

And the people pushing this stuff all seem to have the same story.

They had cancer, they had the surgery but refused chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy. Instead, they DID THIS, and now they’re free from cancer.

Of course they’re free from cancer, the it was surgically removed. Whatever the THIS they DID afterwards is irrelevant.

The surgeons cut out their cancer and cured them. Anything that happened afterwards happened to someone without cancer. Invariably, though, there’s very little mention of the surgery in their biographies. Just the things they did after they were cured. Yet, somehow, this makes them experts on all things cancer. More importantly, it makes them experts on how conventional cancer treatments are unnecessary. You know, the stuff they have no experience of, because they refused to do it…

Basically, because if they DID THIS, after they were cured, you should DO THIS too, before you’re cured.

Because that’s the same…!

And not only are these alternative cancer survivors suddenly experts on why conventional cancer treatments don’t work. Not only are they experts on DOING THIS. They’re experts on all alternative cancer therapies. Apparently, having a surgeon cure you of your cancer and then not have any additional treatments, is all it takes to achieve mastery of all things Alt Pharma.

You may not have noticed this, but these people really annoy me.

So, what are alternative cancer therapies? Smoke and mirrors, that’s what.

I’m not going to go into detail of any of these ‘therapies’, I don’t want to fan the flames. But if you want to read more, I’ve written about one of them here. And if you really want to see a list, Wikipedia has one here.

In conclusion then, alternative cancer therapies are best avoided. They’re peddled by people who want to separate you from as much of your money as they can. And the expensive therapy that they’re trying to sell you, has not been shown to work.

If the therapy had been shown to work, it would form a part of the conventional cancer treatment arsenal.

The sad fact is that not all cancers are curable; mine isn’t. My advice would be not to give your money to Alt Pharma, use it instead to spend time with your loved ones. Leave them happy memories, not debts.