On quack cancer cures, and "alternative medicine" as religion

I loved Science Blogs contributor Orac before I was diagnosed with cancer. I love him a whole lot more now. I'll get to why in a moment, but I want to share something personal first (cracks knuckles).

Well-meaning friends have suggested I try coffee enemas and Burzynskian "antineoplastons" and oxygen therapy to cure my breast cancer; others have told me the reason some of my cells went mutinous is because I offended the Great Invisible Beardy Man in the Sky.

Dude, I've heard it all.

I am active on Twitter in talking about cancer, sharing the experience of my treatment (which fucking sucks), and connecting with fellow persons with cancer.

One of those fellow travelers yesterday tweeted this link, which praises the work of "ND" Judy Seeger. In alternative healing parlance, ND stands for naturopathic doctor. I like Orac's definition better: "not a doctor."

Let me be blunt: I think people who sell fake cancer cures are murderers.

I spoke about the content of that blog post with my radiation oncologist yesterday, after I lay down under the linear accelerator for another daily (yep, daily) blast of rays to kill any remaining lurking cells that might want to off me a few years down the road.

I hate radiation treatment, by the way. HATE IT. But I hate cancer more.

The tl;dr of the conversation I had in the exam room with my rad-onc: medicine isn't perfect, and people who work in the health care system, like my doc, know many aspects of it are broken. Many of them will tell you they are frustrated at how brutal the effects of radiation, chemo, and surgery are on those of us who must endure. But this is the best we have, for now.

Green smoothies are great, but they alone cannot cure cancer. Oncology isn't guaranteed to cure us, but quackery is guaranteed to kill us. What doctors like my rad-onc practice is constantly under scrutiny, and has endured the test of peer-reviewed science and empirical logic. It is the best we have. Rattlesnake powder, laetrile, and squirting espresso up your ass (real things that real people have told me I should do instead of sciencey-medicine) is not.

There are no dark Big Pharma cabals hiding a secret cure for cancer (aka "THE TRUTH," in all caps, as natural cure proponents are wont to type in blog comments). The FDA isn't "hiding" the cure for cancer, either. Believe me, the medical industry would find a way to popularize and profit from that cure, if it did exist. And I'd be first in line, if it worked.

Anyway, about Orac. He tears down naturopathic cancer cures in this post. And in this one, today, he explores the idea of "alternative medicine" as a faith-based religion.

"What we are doing (or trying to do)," writes Orac, is to rely on science rather than faith."

The longer I study alternative medicine and alternative medical systems, the more it becomes clear to me that they show far more similarity to religion than they do to science. It's true that alt-med apologists dress up their beliefs in language that sounds scientific, but when you scratch the patina of scientific language off, it doesn't take long to find the religious imagery, often facilitated by the more conventional religious beliefs (i.e, Christianity) of the believer. We see the same thing with respect to evolution denial. So why not with denial of scientific medicine? A nonscientific world view that is based on faith in things that can't be seen is often not confined to church.

If you haven't spent a ton of time thinking about cancer like I have—and I didn't think about it much before I was diagnosed—you might not know that some idiots actually believe that people like me get cancer because they think bad thoughts. Or conversely, because they don't think enough good thoughts. I'm not kidding. Read the Orac posts. And pass them on to anyone who has cancer, and is frightened and desperate and thinking about ditching science for faith.

I believe cancer patients have every right to choose whatever course of treatment we want, including no treatment at all. But lies and false hope have no place in our lives, least of all when our lives are threatened by a disease that wants to kill us.

If I had fake cancer, I'd totally use fake cancer cures. But I have real cancer.