Alternative cancer care debate


Chemo to kill it, radiation to burn it, or surgery to cut it out.  Greg Babcock tried the standard therapies but when his testicular cancer came back, this busy ad exec didn't want harsh treatments to slow him down.

"I knew there had to be an alternative," said Babcock.

He  found one. Every week high-dose vitamins are pumped into his arm to boost his immune system.

"When the immune system is compromised, that continues to sort of feed the cancer," said Pete Ewens, the president of Natural Horizons Wellness Center.

The vitamins are combined with IPT, insulin potentiation therapy. Patients fast, then receive insulin. The idea is to starve the cancer cells.

"Now, it's going to eat anything that comes down the pipeline," explained Ewens.

Then just 10% of standard chemo is delivered. The very low dose doesn't pose harsh side effects. In fact, patients here say they have more energy than before treatment.

But Dr. David Riseberg, a medical oncologist at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland, says vitamin infusions and IPT are unproven treatments.

"This is kind of on the edge, and there is really no good data to support its use," said Riseberg. "I think you got to stick with where the science is."

One small study did find 10 breast cancer patients who received IPT had smaller increases in tumor size than those on chemo. But the American Cancer Society says: "No scientific studies that show safety and effectiveness have been published in available peer-reviewed journals. These claims cannot be verified."

A real cancer therapy or an unproven alternative?

Babcock says it worked for him.

"After 12 weeks, I'm 100 percent cancer free," he exclaimed.

The vitamin cocktails and IPT infusions are personalized for each patient depending on their needs.

The treatments are expensive.  At the Fairfax, Virginia center profiled in this story, patients pay between $1,600 and $2,600 a week for a package that includes these two treatments.

Additional Information:

ALTERNATIVE CARE: Although the standard medical care for cancer includes chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, some patients decide to opt for more alternative methods to treat their cancer or the symptoms associated with the disease. These alternatives are often referred to as CAM, which stands for complementary and alternative medicine. Unlike standard medical care for cancer patients CAM treatments are not always supported by scientific evidence, and while the CAM treatments may be effective for some people it is not guaranteed to benefit everyone. Complementary medicine refers to the use of non-standard medical treatments along with the standard medical care, meaning a patient may have chemotherapy but is also using an alternative therapy to help with the nausea and fatigue. On the other hand, alternative medicine is when alternative cancer care is used in place of the standard medical treatments. 

Many different types of complementary and alternative medicine for cancer treatment exist and they can usually be classified into three main categories: those dealing with the mind-body connection, with energy, and practices that are biologically based. Alternative cancer care may include:

  • Imagery – The patient imagines experiences or images in order to promote healing in the body.
  • Special Diets and Herbs – Although it has not been scientifically proven, some believe certain foods and herbs can help treat cancer and/or boost the body's immune system allowing it to heal.
  • Acupuncture – Acupuncture is used to help relieve nausea, fatigue, and pain associated with cancer or cancer treatments and to promote health. 

    ALTERNATIVE CARE DEBATE: While some people believe complementary or alternative cancer care is the way to go, there could be some problems with the treatments. Although the vitamin or herb therapies are natural, too much of a certain vitamin can have a negative effect on the body and some herbs and vitamins can react badly with traditional treatments like chemotherapy or cause those treatments to be less effective. It is also important to remember that these care options are not backed by scientific evidence so it is not always clear what the outcome of the treatments may be. If a person is interested in trying a complementary or alternative medicine, they should talk with their doctor. (Source: www.cancer.gov)