Negotiating the complex maze of claims of dietary cures for cancer

Ian E Haines
Med J Aust 2015; 203 (4): 196-197. || doi: 10.5694/mja15.00402

How can we help our patients make sensible decisions?

In this increasingly internet-connected world, vulnerable and desperate patients with life-threatening illnesses such as cancer are often advised or motivated to negotiate their way through a seemingly expanding maze of “dietary cures”.1 As an example, a woman claimed to have cured herself of thyroid cancer by eating pineapples.2

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  • Ian E Haines

  • Cabrini Health, Melbourne, VIC


Competing interests:

No relevant disclosures.


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access_time 11:46, 18 August 2015
Sue Ieraci

Thank you for such an eloquent and wise paper. THIS is integrated and holistic care - combining science, empathy, team-work and honesty - not snake oil.

Competing Interests: Executive member of Friends of Science in Medicine

Dr Sue Ieraci
NSW Public Hospitals

access_time 06:46, 2 September 2015
Pip Cornall

Thank you Ian. Likewise many patients present to our cancer charity with late stage cancer, having delayed or refused appropriate medical interventions. Ironically many had cancers with excellent cure rates from conventional medicine.
Clearly, delaying or refusing medical treatments, while experimenting with the ‘cancer diets’ you mention, will change their prognosis to poor.

Our personal experience is mirrored by our oncology colleagues across Australia. We also collectively noted that patients from certain geographical locations, where belief in alternative treatments is strong, will predictably delay or refuse medical treatments for their cancer.

We believe the deaths from these causes is in the thousands, far in excess of our national road toll.If just 10% of the annual cancer deaths in Australia (43,000 in 2012) (1) were related to the above causes, this is 4,300 deaths. The 12 month road toll in the period ending July 2014 was 1,176 deaths. (2)

Many of our colleagues agree with us that 10% may be a conservative figure. If we are correct, the annual (2102) cancer deaths figure of 43,000 may fall under 40,000 which would also favourably impact the survival percentage of 66% making our survival figures improve somewhat.

One problem in addressing this unnecessary loss of life is the lack of real data. However, even if the evidence is anecdotal, acting on the precautionary principle, we should be taking action.While modern conventional treatments are saving more lives than ever, the public perception is otherwise. Our medical system is losing the media battle and therefore the hearts and minds of the general public. We need to work together to reverse this unhealthy trend.

2. 1153 people died on Australian roads in 2014;

Competing Interests: No relevant disclosures

Mr Pip Cornall
The Grace Gawler Institute

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