Consumer Health Digest #18-29
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
July 22, 2018
Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by William M. London, Ed.D., M.P.H., with help from Stephen Barrett, M.D. It summarizes scientific reports; legislative developments; enforcement actions; news reports; Web site evaluations; recommended and nonrecommended books; and other information relevant to consumer protection and consumer decision-making. Its primary focus is on health, but occasionally it includes non-health scams and practical tips.
"Complementary medicine" (CM) use linked to worse outcomes for cancer patients. From a national database of more than 1.9 million patients, researchers identified 258 users of CM who were diagnosed with non-metastatic breast, prostate, lung, or colorectal cancer from 2004 through 2013. This group was compared to four times as many nonusers of CM who were similar in neighborhood of residence, age, stage of cancer, concurrent health problems, insurance type, race/ethnicity, year of diagnosis, and type of cancer. All patients in both groups had undergone chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgery, and/or hormone therapy. The modalities involved were herbs and botanicals; vitamins and minerals; probiotics; Ayurvedic medicine; traditional Chinese medicine; homeopathy and naturopathy; deep breathing; yoga; Tai Chi; Qi Gong; acupuncture; chiropractic or osteopathic manipulation; meditation; massage; prayer; special diets; progressive relaxation; and/or guided imagery. The findings included:
- CM use was associated with higher stage of cancer, younger age, being female, having private insurance, higher socioeconomic status, higher income, and higher educational level.
- CM users were more likely than nonusers to refuse standard cancer therapies: (a) surgery [7.0% versus 0.1%], (b) chemotherapy [34.1% versus 3.2%], (c) radiation [53.0% versus 2.3%], and (d) hormone therapy [33.7% versus 2.8%].
- CM users were estimated to have a 1.50 to 2.90 times greater risk of dying, which appeared to be due to the refusal or delay of standard treatment.
- Among patients who received only standard treatment, the survival rates were higher for breast cancers (90.4% vs 84.4%), slightly higher for colorectal cancers (84.4% vs 81.4%), and similar for prostate and lung cancers.
Source: Johnson SB and others. Complementary medicine, refusal of conventional cancer therapy, and survival among patients with curable cancers. JAMA Oncology, July 19, 2018. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2018.2487
Classic investigation of quack cancer clinics republished. Cancer Treatment Watch has republished Ralph's Lee Smith's report about the exploitation of cancer patients at Tijuana clinics during the 1960s. At one clinic, Smith was diagnosed with a deadly melanoma when he asked about a lump that he knew was a lipoma (benign fatty cyst). Although the investigation took place more than 50 years ago, it reflects what still happens today. [Smith RL. New traffic in 'cures' for cancer. Saturday Evening Post, 1968]
Crowdfunding campaigns for unproven stem cell treatments investigated. Researchers have examined the texts of 358 GoFundMe and 50 YouCaring crowdfunding campaigns in which people sought donations to access unproven stem cell treatments offered by U.S.-based companies. The study focused on 78 campaigns that made direct or subtle statements suggesting that the method was being researched. Many of these mentioned that their approach was not covered by insurance programs because it was experimental and that contributors would help scientific and biomedical knowledge to advance. The most common medical conditions featured in these campaigns were multiple sclerosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diseases of the eye, joint disease, and Parkinson's disease. Noting that many such claims were misleading, the researchers recommended that regulatory bodies look closely at marketing through crowdfunding sites, particularly those that are dressed with "research" claims. They would also like the crowdfunding industry to develop mechanisms to counter misleading claims and stop fraudulent promotions. [Snyder J. Turner L. Selling stem cell 'treatments' as research: prospective customer perspectives from crowdfunding campaigns. Regenerative Medicine 13(4), 2018] Although stem cell therapy has a few practical applications and considerable promise, there is good reason to be skeptical of commercial clinics that offer it.
Contemporary bogus autism therapies summarized. For her Woo Watch column, Kavin Senapathy has authored a two-part overview of autism relevant to consumer decision-making. Part 1 describes autism spectrum disorder; the false link between autism and both the MMR vaccine and thimerosal; mainstream therapeutic interventions; the autism acceptance movement; and eight dubious approaches: (a) the DAN! Protocol, (b) chlorine dioxide (CD/MMS), (c) secretin, (d) chelation, (e) hyperbaric oxygen (HBOT/HBO2), (f) chemical castration with Lupron, (g) GcMAF, and (h) stem cell therapies. [Senapathy K. On unsubstantiated yet prevalent therapeutic interventions for autism [Part I]. Skeptical Inquirer, July 9, 2018] Part 2 lists red flags to look out for with any purported treatment or cure for autism and discusses five more unsubstantiated interventions: (a) CEASE therapy, (b) facilitated communication, (c) gluten-free casein-free (GFCF) diet, (d) non-GMO diets, and (e) the Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) diet. [Senapathy K. On unsubstantiated yet prevalent therapeutic interventions for autism [Part II]. Skeptical Inquirer, July 9, 2018]
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