//Generalising about CAM is misleading

Generalising about CAM is misleading

An article in the Guardian  makes some unfair generalisations about complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) but also makes one very good point.

The author is an Australian oncologist called Ranjana Srivastrana. Oncologists or physicians specialising in cancer do not have easy jobs. Having worked in an oncology ward myself, I know the sadness of seeing new empty beds each morning. Nevertheless her general attack on CAM is hopelessly biased. Whole person medicine and CAM are not about ripping patients off and forcing them to spend thousands of pounds on supplements. There may be some unscrupulous practitioners (and doctors)  who do this, but in general my experience of non-doctor CAM practitioners is that they are caring people who appreciate patients as whole people and generally work hard to make a modest living.

Whole Person Medicine should always include orthodox medicine and this means anti-cancer drugs too. A whole person programme for a patient with cancer can easily involve radiotherapy, chemotherapy as well as CAM techniques such as Autogenic Training (for profound relaxation), homeopathy, acupuncture and creative visualisation. Many patient intuitively sense this and that is why Dr Srivastrana’s patients ask her the questions that so frustrate her. She should read Bernie Siegel’s book Love, Medicine and Miracles in which the author, a surgeon, beautifully illustrates a whole person approach to cancer which of course does not exclude the tools of the oncologist, but harnesses the power of the mind of the patient in the therapeutic process.

Srivastrana does make a very important in that she notes doctors and alternative practitioners seldom talk to each other and many doctors don’t understand CAM at all. In the era of instant communication, this should not be difficult to remedy. Some CAM practitioners spend many hours talking to their patients and the doctors of those patients may learn a lot by making a quick call. As that old BT ad said: ‘It’s good to talk.’

By | 2015-03-03T13:05:02+00:00 March 3rd, 2015|Current Affairs|4 Comments

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  1. Andy Lewis March 3, 2015 at 1:13 pm - Reply

    Dr Kaplan,

    The article is quite clear that a big barrier between real medicine and CAM is that there is no dialogue. One of the big issues is that CAM practitioners routinely tell their customers things that are not true or are unevidenced. This undermines the basis of the doctor patient relationship and makes dialogue very hard.

    How do you propose that this can be helped? How do we stop CAM practitioners misleading their customers?

    • Dr. Kaplan March 3, 2015 at 7:52 pm - Reply

      It’s a fair question. I’ve always advocated that CAM practitioners work alongside doctors and some do. Others do try to communicate with doctors but seldom get a reply as GPs are so overstretched. I think the author of the article makes a fair point when she says doctors should know more about different forms of CAM. Her point about herbs may be valid in a few selected cases but what she says about colonic hydrotherapy is not. It’s been used by the yogis and even appears in papyrus. In the case of homeopathy, it can never interfere with chemo but think of it this way. The oncologist (as some do) says it’s fine to have homeopathy as long as the patient goes along with the chemotherapy, radiotherapy or surgery. The patient then talks to the homeopath for an hour (or two in some cases) and relates his/her total subjective experience of the illness to the homeopath who then prescribes a homeopathic medicine to complement the orthodox treatment. This can never do harm and most would agree could be beneficial independent of what one believes about the clinical efficacy of the actual homeopathic medicine. What happens in practice is that oncologists, confusing herbs with homeopathy, proscribe the homeopathy and this is not to the patients’ benefit.

  2. Andy Lewis March 4, 2015 at 9:51 am - Reply

    Dr Kaplan

    I think we need not debate wether or not homeopathy can cause direct harm taken alongside chemotherapy. We would agree on that but perhaps for different reasons.

    My concern is the beliefs of CAM practitioner – so many have the ‘cut, poison, burn’ mentality when it comes to cancer treatment and taking on board these beliefs this can drive a very difficult wedge between patient and oncologist.

    That is why I ask, “how can we help prevent CAM practitioners misleading their customers?’

    • Dr. Kaplan March 5, 2015 at 6:50 pm - Reply

      Well first of all we would have to agree that “so many have the ‘cut, poison, burn’ mentality when it comes to cancer treatment.”
      Next we would have to agree on how much of a nanny state we want.
      Next we would have to agree on whether people have the right to choose what they want in medicine.

      As we are unlikely to agree on any of these, we have no context to discuss what you ask. I will say this though: I do agree that people who pretend to be doctors when they are not, should be disciplined. That’s it. Otherwise if you go to someone who isn’t a doctor, then you are not really expecting scientific medicine are you? If a priest says to a parishioner that prayer will help, should he be prosecuted? Not in my book.

      As I’ve always said Andy, you and I have very different political opinions about the function of the State in medicine and probably in everything else. The ‘we’ you refer to in your question does not mean the same to me as it means to you.

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