24 July 2006

Chemotherapy or Alternative Medicine?

There is news from the US of teens with cancer and their parents refusing to undergo chemotherapy and turn to alternative treatment methods instead. Their doctors, however, believe chemotherapy is the best course of action, and are willing to go to court to fight for it.

"These teens' ordeals point to the complex controversy surrounding teen cancer treatment. While traditional medicine says that chemotherapy, radiation, and stem cell transplants are the only options available to treat cancer, there are a number of alternative treatments that claim to be successful. Some of these methods include diet management, electrode therapy, herbal and plant extracts, supplements and oxygen treatments."

There are always pros and cons in every choice we are forced to choose. In cancer, chemotherapy remains to be the most reliable source of treatment as far as the medical world is concerned. But because of its side effects wherein some teen cancer patients experience being "very sick and could barely move," some of them opt not to undego treatment anymore, or seek alternative remedies --- both of which are frowned on by oncologists.

"The first round of chemo almost killed me in itself. There were some nights I didn't know if I would make it," Abraham says. To go through it again "would kill me, literally. No joke about it."

Abraham is Abraham Cherrix, the 16-year old Virginia teen who underwent chemotherapy for his Hodgkin's disease and has become so weak because of the ordeal that he wants no more treatment. His parents agree with him. They are now giving Abraham a "herbal remedy four times a day and an organic diet." His doctors, however, has taken his parents to juvenile court and has charged them with medical neglect. They insist on a second round of chemo to fight the cancer.

"This is my body that I'm supposed to take care of. I should have the right to tell someone what I want to do with this body. I studied. I did research. I came to this conclusion that the chemotherapy was not the route I wanted to take,"

So what will it be? Chemotherapy or alternative treatment?

Because I'm a physician, I'm also inclined to believe that chemotherapy is still the best option. But while this is true, I'm also aware that this is a case where the doctors have alienated themselves with the patient to a point that the patient no longer believes in their kind of medicine.

In the local setting, I've seen this many times --- and not just on teens. Actually, I think there are a number of adult cancer patients here who prefer the alternative modes of treatment more than chemotherapy. I've met with patient friends with cancer who swear on the effectivity of alternative treatment and describe how their oncologists were baffled how their cancers disappeared.

I believe chemotherapy and alternative methods can go together in the battle against cancer. The patient always has a right to decide what is best for his body, but he must make the decision with the right information about his choices. The batting average of chemotherapy against cancer is backed up by scientific studies, while alternative treatments are mostly vague and anecdotal. This is part of the reason why doctors easily dismiss their effectivity against cancer. The poor patient, however, interprets such behavior as power-tripping and this contributes further to the alienation.

I also think that the prime consideration is the patient's well-being. I think a friendly attitude rather than a cold, authoritarian approach should be employed with cancer patients. Sometimes patient rapport, warm empathy, and good bedside manners go a long way in the treatment process.

[Sources: ABC News, USATODAY]

3 reactions:

JMom said...

True, doc. I think many physicians can serve their patients well by listening to them and assessing the type of treatment they give based on their patients wishes (when it makes sense, of course). At least when one is able, they should involve the patient in deciding the care he would like to receive rather than just dictating it. Sometimes it feels good just to feel like you're an active participant in your health care, rather than the voiceless victim or some vicious disease.

bing said...

i have seen friends and relatives who'd undergone chemo, and it's not a lovely sight seeing them after the process. it looked to me as very painful, and i have asked myself if there're no other way. a friend's wife died of cancer, too, and she decided not to undergo chemo anymore for the last time because she cant take it anymore. she was skin-and-bones already that time, and became weaker after the chemo before the last.

doctors should feel, too. i know it's the patients' welfare which is their primary concern but sometimes being human is more than following the protocol.

Tani said...

doctors should really take time out to explain the side effects of chemotherapy. they shouldn't just outline what to expect as "nausea and vomiting". those poor teens... they were not expecting the magnitude of those side effects... and their parents just didn't want them to suffer more pain...