A cancer patient holds the IV tubes during chemotherapy.
Cancer: The facts
01:00 - Source: CNN

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Researchers looked at survival rates for breast, prostate, lung and colorectal cancers

Breast cancer patients who chose alternative treatment had a fivefold greater risk of death

CNN  — 

Patients who chose alternative therapies to treat a common, curable cancer instead of opting for the recommended medical treatment double their risk of death, according to a recent study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Conventional medical treatments include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, while any other unproven cancer treatment administered by non-medical personnel would be considered an alternative therapy.

Yale School of Medicine’s Dr. Skyler Johnson, lead author of the study, said that based on what he’s seen as a practicing doctor, patients are increasingly refusing or delaying conventional cancer treatment in favor of alternative therapies.

As a result of that, their cancer is “advancing: either getting larger or spreading to lymph nodes or spreading to distant sites,” Johnson said. “This is concerning, because your chance of cure decreases as the cancer grows and spreads.”

A breast cancer patient with stage I cancer, for example, has almost 100% chance of surviving five years, he explained. However, stage IV breast cancer – in which it has spread to lymph nodes or a distant part of the body – reduces a patient’s chances of surviving five years to 25% or even 20%.

Delaying recommended medical treatment may allow cancer to spread and reach an advanced stage, which decreases a patient’s ability to survive, said Johnson, who reported no conflicts of interest, though two of his three co-authors have received research funding from the pharmaceutical companies 21st Century Oncology, Johnson and Johnson, Medtronic and Pfizer.

With no scientific evidence to support a choice in favor of alternative therapy, Johnson and his co-authors at Yale Cancer Center believed it would be worthwhile to examine the issue “so we could have an informed discussion based on the evidence of what the risk might be if patients chose to move forward with alternative therapies,” he said.