Don't Kill Yourself Like Steve Jobs, Take Your Chemo

By Lila Abassi — May 13, 2016
Women who take dietary supplements and use multiple forms of complementary alternative medicine are less likely to initiate chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer when it's clinically indicated. And to put it mildly, that's not a good approach. Just ask the family of the late Steve Jobs.
Complementary medicine via Shutterstock Complementary medicine via Shutterstock

Steve Jobs died regretting treating himself with alternative medicine and delaying lifesaving surgery for his pancreatic cancer. Hopefully, others will learn from the former Apple CEO's tragic mistake.

Women (and men) diagnosed with breast cancer grapple with this life-altering disease in a myriad of ways. Ultimately, the goal of anyone diagnosed with a horrible disease is survival. We hail survivors. Sometimes, people get confused along the way and opt for more "holistic" healing. However, when it comes to treating breast cancer, it is chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation, not poultices and salves that save.

In a recent paper, published in JAMA Oncology, researchers found that among the women with breast cancer for whom chemotherapy was indicated, were less likely to initiate chemotherapy if they were taking dietary supplements and multiple modalities of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).

The study looked at 685 women who were recruited from Columbia University Medical Center, Kaiser Permanente of Northern California and Henry Ford Health System, and were enrolled between 2006-2010. The women were asked about five different categories of CAM use: vitamins and/or minerals, herbs and other botanicals, other natural products, mind-body self-practice, and mind-body practitioner-based practice.

Of the total participants, 45 percent had an indication to start chemotherapy. To clarify, the only individuals who don't need chemotherapy are the ones with an isolated lesion in one breast measuring less than one centimeter. After having been followed for 12 months, 89 percent of women who needed it had started chemotherapy. The other 11 percent who opted out of chemotherapy were more likely to be taking dietary supplements or engaging in multiple CAM modalities.

“Though the majority of women with clinically indicated chemotherapy initiated treatment, 11 percent did not,” stated Heather Greenlee, ND, PhD, associate professor of Epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. “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 patient at risk of not initiating clinically indicated chemotherapy.”

The author seems to be treading lightly around the misguided notions that herbs and minerals or other “natural” remedies will yield better outcomes than harsh chemicals like chemotherapy. To those individuals who feel that what is found in nature is benevolent should be reminded that the causative agent of botulism, the death-cap mushroom, and cocaine are also nature’s products.

Chemotherapy improves survival in those women who need it. This is proven. What is not proven is meditating whilst drinking a kale smoothie with a guru. This is not to knock the positive aspects of doing what makes you feel good on the inside because that is a good thing. What is not good is when it is advocated in lieu of what will save you.

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