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Guide Describes, Gauges Alternative Cancer Therapies

Oncology: Information is intended to paint a 'balanced picture' for consumers.

September 18, 2000|From Washington Post

The number of complementary and alternative medical treatments for cancer has become so great that the American Cancer Society is helping consumers sort them out.

"This is becoming a billion-dollar business," said David S. Rosenthal, medical director of Boston's Dana-Farber Cancer Center, who wrote a foreword to the ACS' new "Guide to Complementary and Alternative Cancer Methods." "There are burgeoning efforts by a number of people promoting alternative therapies, some of which have [beneficial] attributes, some of which are off the wall. The ACS is trying to provide a balanced picture of what is known and what is not known."

The 438-page guide includes detailed descriptions of complementary therapies (designed for use with conventional medicine) and alternative treatments (used in place of standard medical therapy).

The authors consulted peer-reviewed medical journals and textbooks to determine if claims for alternative and complementary treatments were supported by scientific evidence. An 18-member advisory board reviewed the evidence for scientific accuracy.

Publication of the guide, available in bookstores and through the organization, signals a major shift in how the mainstream medical community views unconventional treatments. "Ten years ago, many clinicians wouldn't listen to their patients when they talked about these therapies," Rosenthal said. "More and more, clinicians are now believers in complementary medicine."

Even so, Rosenthal urges consumers to be frank with their physicians about what unconventional treatments they may be using. "We're very anxious to improve the quality of life of cancer patients, and indeed there are a number of ways within complementary and alternative medicine that can be done," he said. "But there are also some things that are definitely proven not to work and are still being promoted."

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