An unusual attempt to compare the effectiveness of an unorthodox cancer treatment to that of conventional chemotherapy has found that both were equally ineffectual in extending the lives of men and women with terminal cancer.
The study, published in today's New England Journal of Medicine, found no difference in the length of survival between patients treated at the University of Pennsylvania Cancer Center and patients at an alternative-treatment clinic in San Diego.
The researchers did, however, find that the conventionally treated patients reported a higher "quality of life" than patients at the Livingston-Wheeler Clinic -- despite many claims made for alternative therapies and despite the toxicity of chemotherapy.
The study tells "the many thousands of patients in this country who seek unproven care every year primarily because they feel it's going to cure them and improve their quality of life . . . that TC that's not true," said Barrie Cassileth, the lead author of the paper.
"But it's also telling conventional medicine . . . that we may not be doing patients any major favors by continuing to treat them with toxic regimens when we know they can't be cured," said Dr. Cassileth, who is on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania.
The study is one of few to apply scientific scrutiny to the alternative cancer-treatment industry -- a business believed to have grown to $10 billion a year on unproven promises and the hope of patients disenchanted with established medicine.
In the study, patients at the University of Pennsylvania and in the San Diego clinic were matched by diagnosis, sex, age and race. The researchers then followed them, interviewing them every two months by telephone about their physical and mental state and quality of life.
Those patients on conventional treatment mostly received standard chemotherapeutic drugs.
The Livingston-Wheeler Clinic, now known as the Livingston Clinic Foundation, was treating patients with a so-called immune-enhancing vaccine, vegetarian diets and coffee enemas.