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Negotiating the complex maze of claims of dietary cures for cancer

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How can we help our patients make sensible decisions?

In this increasingly internet-connected world, vulnerable and desperate patients with life-threatening illnesses such as cancer are often advised or motivated to negotiate their way through a seemingly expanding maze of “dietary cures”.1 As an example, a woman claimed to have cured herself of thyroid cancer by eating pineapples.2

Many negotiate their way through and make sensible choices, but my oncology colleagues and I continue to see patients who choose extreme dietary and alternative treatments for potentially curable cancers and don’t turn to us until they are quite ill and their cancer has spread and become incurable. To see patients with early disease, who would have an excellent prognosis if standard treatment protocols were followed, return with advanced disease after eschewing this standard treatment for dietary cures is extremely distressing for the patients, their loved ones and their treating doctors.

Why is this occurring and how can we as physicians and health professionals help our patients navigate this maze and make sensible decisions?

Problem: Patients with cancer are often terrified and feel out of control

Strategy: Form a trusting, empathic and therapeutic relationship with the patient

We must acknowledge and validate the patient’s…