(WellnessNova.com) - A breast cancer diagnosis is possibly one of the worst things a woman can hear at a doctor’s office. Though its severity still remains very real, today more women are surviving than ever before. In fact, the 5-year relative survival rate of people with breast cancer is 99 percent if the cancer is located only in the breast. Even if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, the 5-year survival rate is as high as 85%.
Early detection through mammography and medical care before and after surgery have a lot to do with the increase in survival rate over the past decade. Breast cancer comes in numerous forms, and treatment varies depending on size of tumor, type of cancer, and how fast the tumor is growing. Chemotherapy is one of several treatments that doctors may recommend, and it can be an invaluable tool in battling cancer.
However, many women couple these more conventional treatments with alternative therapies. These might come in the form of supplements and vitamins, herbal treatments, or therapies that work with the mind-body connection, such as meditation or yoga.
Interesting new research is emerging that shows how these alternative therapies may play some kind of role in minimizing a patient’s potential choice for chemotherapy when diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer.
In a study released in May 2016 from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Dr. Heather Greenlee has suggested that complementary and alternative therapies have an effect on whether or not patients will later choose chemotherapy.
The study took in 685 women, all of whom were under the age of 70 and had early stage, non-metastatic invasive breast cancer. Of these women, 306 of them were advised to have chemotherapy. The rest were recommended chemotherapy as an “optional” form of treatment.
During the study, women practiced one or more of five different alternative therapies. These included dietary or herbal supplements, mind-body practice, and other natural products.
Eighty-seven percent of all the women used some form of alternative therapy with vitamin or mineral supplements and mind-body practice as the most common form of treatment.
The study was conducted over a period of 12 months and ultimately revealed that chemotherapy was “initiated by 89 percent of women for whom chemotherapy was indicated.”
That number may seem high, but this means that 11 percent of women who were originally recommended chemotherapy did not undergo treatment. But the question is, why?
For the women who were originally advised to take on chemotherapy, only 36 percent of them went on to have the treatment.
Greenlee cautions more research in this area. For example, it is not yet known if these women refused chemotherapy because of their long-standing belief systems against the treatment, or if experience with alternative therapies led them to choose other treatment methods. Perhaps it is newer feelings or experience with the alternative therapies that led them to choose those therapies over chemotherapy.
What was found, was that: “dietary supplements usage and a higher simultaneous use of multiple complementary and alternative therapies among women for whom chemotherapy was indicated were associated with a lower likelihood to initiate chemotherapy than nonusers.”
She goes on to say that: “A cautious interpretation of results may suggest to oncologists that it is beneficial to ascertain use of complementary and alternative medicine therapy among their patients, especially dietary supplement use, and to consider use of alternative treatment as a potential marker of patients at risk of not initiating clinically indicated chemotherapy.”
There is no doubt that better communication between doctor and patient will give the doctor a clearer understanding of what treatments the patient is interested in pursuing.
To date, studies seem to indicate that women who eschew chemotherapy altogether in favor of alternative therapies tend to have a higher rate of death than those who use conventional medicine in conjunction with alternative medicine. One particular study showed that “…by refusing chemotherapy, 9 patients increased their estimated 10-year mortality rate from 17% to 25%.”
A larger study that looked at a group of women between 1980 and 2006 indicated that: “The 5-year overall survival rates were 43.2% for those who refused standard treatments and 81.9% for those who received them.”
If Greenlee’s study is significant, it’s because it highlights the necessity for communication between cancer patients and their physician. Patients who are considering alternative treatments need to be clear with their doctor and specify whether or not these efforts will be their primary source of treatment. This is ultimately the choice of the patient who must be aware of the risks and projected outcomes involved in any such choice.