How can anyone deny scientifically sound treatment for breast cancer?

I just don’t understand how someone can live in this day and age and deny the effectiveness of scientifically sound medical treatment when dealing with breast cancer. I was completely flummoxed when I came across the in-depth and thoughtful post “A horrifying breast cancer ‘testimonial’ for ‘holistic’ treatment” on Respectful Insolence, written by a surgeon and scientist who uses the pen name Orac.

Like others who came before and surely will come after her, Kim Tinkham rejected conventional medical treatment in favor of quack pseudoscience, in this case provided by Robert O. Young, who believes cancer is caused by “excess acid” and flacks something called the PH Miracle. Which also aids with weight loss, diabetes and anti-aging according to their website. And why not? Heck, if it can cure stage 3 breast cancer, weight loss must be a piece of cake.

As I read this excellent if alarming blog, I couldn’t stop wondering what could cause someone to reject real medical treatment for 21st century snake oil. And as Orac explained, Tinkham was also a proponent of “The Secret,” which was a big fad a few years ago. The Secret is like a self-fulfilling prophecy on steroids–whatever you believe, you can make happen, never mind cause and effect. The psychology world calls this naive and unfounded belief ”magical thinking.”

I’m not trying to pick on Tinkham, just understand her. One of the things she kept talking about was personal choice. I’m pretty big on choice myself. I know from experience how difficult the choices can be when it comes to breast cancer, and I also know that no one else can make that choice for us. And I understand and support people who choose to not to undergo treatment so they can maintain quality of life as they approach its end.

But to reject the treatment that’s our best hope of forestalling that stark end-of-life choice is absolutely unfathomable to me. While I was wrestling with the decision of what treatment plan I should accept for my early-stage breast cancer, not once did it occur to me to reject those options for the equivalent of not stepping on a crack.

What has to be in your head and heart, to make you believe that belief itself (and whatever magic elixir happens to be in vogue) is a better option than professional medical treatment? How can we break through that kind of belief system? I’m not sure we can. I kept wondering what I would do if someone I loved told me she was going that route. I wouldn’t be above trying emotional blackmail and begging her to do it for her family if not herself.

The saddest thing about this is all those other desperate women who are going to see Tinkham’s testimonial on YouTube and believe in quack cures like she did. If only we could get them to believe in science and medicine.

Jackie Fox is the author of From Zero to Mastectomy: What I Learned And You Need to Know About Stage 0 Breast Cancer, and blogs at Dispatch From Second Base.

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  • bongi

    my aunt got breast cancer. my own cousin, her daughter, told her it would be healed by a vegetarian diet and positive thinking!!! i was shocked.

    luckily my aunt phoned me and asked my opinion. she got it cut out and is alive today.

  • stargirl65

    I had a patient with breast cancer that refused traditional treatments and went for the holistic. When she developed severe bone and skin mets and was in severe intractable pain she presented to the ER for pain management. She was admitted, placed on morphine, and surgery was consulted to manage her open oozing skin mets. She died shortly thereafter. She never would reveal the name of the “doctor” that cared for her before this. Ironically though when her holistic medicine failed her, she came to the hospital for traditional medicine to cure her pain.

  • Dr Synonymous

    People appreciate having choices. They have the right to select the choice that aligns best with what they believe and who they are. They don’t always choose the “medical” choice. No matter who explains it how many times, they reject what we believe in. Can we handle it?
    Can we allow them their freedom even though they die? Should we relieve them of their freedom to choose a likely fatal course and take charge of their humanity?
    Why criticize them for believing in us to help with their pain? Many people don’t believe in some medical therapies while they believe in others. Can we tolerate it?

  • J.T. Wenting

    The Hollywood image of the “mad scientist”, together with governments insisting that all hard science leads to suffering, pollution, and everything bad in the world through their greenie links, combined with constant stories about medical malpractice, leads to severe (and often misplaced) mistrust in (medical in this case, but it is general) science and medicine.

    I can’t blame people who don’t have a scientific education themselves from trusting miracle doctors and faith healers who advertise in People magazine and other society rags, when all their life they’ve been bombarded left and right with stories about how science is evil, hospitals are death traps, doctors are quacks best not trusted, medicine == chemicals == bad for you.

    People resort to real physicians as a last resource, when all else fails.
    This is what the woman in this story did. She had nothing to loose, knew she’d die anyway, so why not give it a shot? Can’t get any worse, can it?

    That’s an image problem created over a period of decades, and reinforced by every publication about a doctor causing permanent harm to a patient because of errors, incompetence, or mere mishap (and such stories we read almost every day).

    I don’t know the solution. Banning those real quacks has been tried, but doesn’t work. They go underground and spread their advertising through word of mouth, which works just as well as TV ads.

  • LaPaz

    I think this article is very incomplete – where is the research and the references to your claims of quackery? I preface by saying that I myself do not know enough about this topic – but I am slowly learning more and more. In any case, I assure you that there are hundreds, if not thousands of people (or more) surviving cancer – even thriving – via the holistic way. My own father is one of them and I am so proud of him. The doctors are baffled that after 8 years, his prostate cancer, while still in his body, has not grown or moved at all due to the holistic care that he is undergoing instead of poisoning his body with “modern medicine”. They told him that he would deteriorate and not live past 10 years. He’s living a perfect healthy life except that he goes in to see where his cancer is each year. In fact, he’s far healthier now than he would have been had he gone the conventional route – and this is according to the conventional doctors! The doctors are BAFFLED by it. I really don’t know why they are baffled…the more I read, the more I realize that there is a lot of scientific evidence out there that shows that holistic care is real…and it’s not quackery. I really think that if you are going to write an article like this, that you should back it up by doing your own research and try to see it from the holistic side. I would be curious to know how much you really know about it.

  • maribel

    In the future “science” may discover that the treatment of DCIS diagnosed by mammography to be as off as holistic treatments. A woman credits her treatment for her well being when the real reason she is fine now is because she had a type of cancer that would have never harmed her to begin with. I’m not saying today’s approach doesn’t save lives but let’s not overstate it’s effectiveness.

  • phayes

    “The doctors are baffled that after 8 years, his prostate cancer, while still in his body, has not grown or moved at all due to the holistic care that he is undergoing”

    Well I’d say they must be pretty incompetent doctors if they’re ‘baffled’ by that fact – and extremely incompetent if they’re also agreeing with that fallacious causal attribution.

  • Dr. Veronica

    Its always amazing to me how condescending some people can be to others who make a choice that they do not understand or agree with.
    I’ve seen “miracle” cures with people who have tried alternative treatments rather than disfiguring mastectomies, toxic chemotherapies and burning radiotherapy. Those alternatives had the side effect of the patient being well and alive. That’s the type of “quackery” that I like.
    After seeing enough of these miracles, I am convinced that there is a lot that I was not taught in medical school and many days I feel I was even lied to about many thing there.

    Bottom line: There are many roads to wellness and healing and each person should have the right to choose their own road.

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