Originally Published: December 25, 2016 5:50 a.m.
DEAR DR. ROACH: I am a middle-aged woman, who has just today, as a result of a breast biopsy, been diagnosed with breast cancer (ductal carcinoma). Although I haven’t yet seen the surgeon, I know that chemotherapy will be offered to me after surgery.
I know chemotherapy is one of the usual treatments for most kinds of cancer, but I also know that it is very toxic, destroying some healthy cells along with the cancerous cells, and that it can cause other cancers to develop months or even years after a person has been exposed to it. I personally know a couple of people who have refused chemotherapy and instead chosen to see a naturopathic physician. They obtained successful treatment from alternative methods, without harm to the healthy cells in the body and, after many years, remain cancer-free. One of the features of this kind of treatment involves ridding the body of all toxic heavy metals. Supposedly, they contribute to the development of cancer.
Could you please advise me if this is a safe and wise alternative to consider? If so, how does a person go about locating an expert in the field of alternative medicine? I am desperate for an unbiased answer and don’t know where to turn. I will have to make a decision soon, so I would very much appreciate your opinion. – Anon.
ANSWER: I am sorry to hear of your diagnosis, and would urge you to carefully consider your options, do a lot of reading and talk to your oncologist and surgeon before making any decision.
Chemotherapy may or may not be offered to you, depending on the stage of the cancer and the receptors that are on your particular tumor. You don’t have to make that choice now. However, if it is offered, you’ll want to know your likelihood of getting rid of the cancer, both with and without the chemotherapy, and what the long-term risks are (second cancers after breast cancer treatment do happen, but may have nothing to do with the chemotherapy or radiation therapy). Chemotherapy is designed to kill cancer, not healthy cells, and over the years it is slowly getting better at doing so.
You certainly may get a long-term response without chemotherapy, and you might not get one even if you do take it. The addition of chemotherapy to a treatment plan is made only when it improves the odds, but there are no guarantees. I have no doubt that you know people who were treated by alternative methods, almost certainly in combination with conventional treatments, who have had good results. But that doesn’t prove that their good results were a result of the alternative treatments. I am sure most alternative providers are well-meaning people trying to help, and I have recommended some treatments designed to help people better tolerate their conventional treatments.
However, as far as “toxic heavy metals” go, there is absolutely no reliable evidence that treatment to remove them helps treat cancer or prevent recurrence. In my opinion, it is neither safe nor wise.
Cancer is caused by a complex interaction between your DNA and the environment, and heavy metals are unlikely to play any meaningful part.
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Dr. Roach regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but will incorporate them in the column whenever possible. Readers may email questions to ToYourGoodHealth@med.cornell.edu or request an order form of available health newsletters at 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803. Health newsletters may be ordered from www.rbmamall.com.