Trust in the treatment

Trust in the treatment
Trust in the treatment is a segment in the November 2013 issue of WDDTY, part of an article on “the survivors’ six steps to surviving cancer”. It’s the opinion of Lynne McTaggart.

McTaggart makes assertions without any evidence to support them – several are contradicted by published research -offers an anecdote as “proof” without any of the necessary supporting data, and cites in support a doctor who has been sanctioned for ethical violations and whose treatment has been shown to deliver quicker death and lower quality of life.

Trust in the treatment

Is WDDTY’s advice to “trust in the treatment” evidentially sound?

A cancer diagnosis can leave you paralyzed with fear and unable to access your rational brain. Many experts therefore recommend giving yourself a week to process the news and look into all your options. But once you’ve done your research and decided on a direction that’s right for you, it’s important to put your faith in the treatment plan. “Belief is the first, most important factor,” says Lynne McTaggart, author of The Bond: The Power of Connection and co-editor of this magazine.

And if you are unable to use your rational brain, you become prey for those promoting irrational ideas. Lynne McTaggart, author of “The Bond: The Power Of Connection”, promotes many irrational ideas, both in her books and in much of the content of WDDTY.

There is no credible reason to stick with the plan you make in your first terrified week; it is very likely that as you work with your medical team and they more accurately assess the stage and type of disease, you might be in a very good position to make informed choices that are distinctly different.

What you definitely should not do is go home, read WDDTY, decide to follow some quack regimen and then stick with it when your doctor points out that, well, it’s a quack regimen.

“What do you think will work for you? If you have a strong belief about something, that’s been shown to help boost the success of the treatment.”

No source is cited for this.

In the current climate, following gut feelings about health might seem radical, even reckless. But time and time again, the word ‘intuition’ came up in my survivor interviews.

This is due to confirmation bias. Cancer survivors who use evidence-based treatments are unlikely to be talking to WDDTY; people who have died after taking quack nostrums are not there to tell the tale.

A 1994 study shows that users of alternatives to medicine believe that their health could be improved and they are loyal to their alternative practitioners and skeptical of evidence-based treatments (source); a 2004 study showed that these beliefs are worryingly incorrect. Alternative users present later when they get cancer, particularly since they often delay evidence-based diagnosis and treatment in favour of unproven or invalid alternatives, and even after controlling for this, they still die sooner (source).

After being diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer at the age of 31, Rachel Kierath came under a huge amount of pressure to undergo conventional treatment. “Finally, the day before I was due to start [chemo], I just thought ‘You know what? I’ve got to listen to what’s true for me.’

The idea that there are different forms of truth, is seductive but wrong. You don’t get to opt out of cancer being horrible, you don’t get to opt out of alternative treatments being useless. you don’t get to choose whether your body follows normal human physiology.

You do get to choose whether to believe the testimonial a huckster holds up, or engage your critical faculties and ask whether this person is representative. For example, Stanislaw Burzynski claims significant success in treating cancer, holding up a few prominent survivors (at least some of whom also had evidence-based treatment). He is less forthcoming about the large number of cases where his treatment caused massive expense, serious side effects, and did not save the patient. It turns out that he routinely misclassifies responses.

When I thought about chemo, I felt utterly defeated, my energies zapped . . . I couldn’t think of anything worse than being sick all day and then trying to find the energy to fight it. So as soon as I made the decision to go with my gut instinct—which was to reject that and do things my way—it was just this huge weight off my shoulders, and I knew that I had just released myself from all that stress and that I would be all right.”

The fact that the alternative medicine press has very effectively poisoned the minds of its readers about chemo is well-known. This is not a good thing. The misery lasts a few months. In the case of liquid tumours, chemo is the primary therapy and often extremely effective. In the case of solid tumours it may reduce the chances of recurrence or metastasis following surgery. The choice to forego chemo should be made on logical and evidential grounds, not “gut instinct” and the bogeyman mythos of alternative practitioners. Read Kate Granger’s books. Follow @GrangerKate, @Xeni and @SusanGerbic on Twitter. These are real women who have undergone real chemo and can tell you what it’s really like from the other side.

This is probably a better idea than listening to someone with a strong anti-medicine agenda whose claims about chemo are “quite misleading to patients“.

Kierath received the ‘all-clear’ a year after her diagnosis.

Without further information (surgery? radiotherapy? stage of cancer?) this is meaningless.

Dr Nicholas Gonzalez, a leading cancer specialist based in New York, sheds some light on the power of belief. “When people believe in something, it creates a sense of relaxation, which is when healing occurs,” he says. “Nutrition is wonderful, but there is no vitamin, mineral or trace element that can override someone’s psychology.”

WDDTY tells us that “big pharma” cannot be believed because it profits from the ill.

Gonzalez is anything but a “leading cancer specialist”. While he has a large and lucrative practice treating desperate people, his medical licence has already been placed on probation once for ethical violations, his claimed cures turn out to be down to selection bias and confounders, and a controlled trial of his modestly-titled “Gonzalez protocol” found that his patients died faster than those treated with conventional chemotherapy, and had significantly worse quality of life.

This advocacy of a person who profits directly from unproven claims, or claims that are soundly contradicted by diligent scientific investigation, is characteristic of the alternative medicine subculture, a subculture within which it appears that scientific evidence contradicting a claim is taken as validation rather than a red flag, even when the person making the claims is clearly profiting substantially from selling the product or treatment.

What Doctors Don't Tell You
Why don’t doctors tell you that belief in your gut instinct is more important than following the evidence?

Because it would be stupid and wrong.

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