Earth Girl has asked me to comment on this article from a medical point of view, about a woman who trusted an “energy healer” to cure her of her breast cancer and is now suffering from metastatic cancer that may not have progressed so far if she’d chosen a conventional medical therapy.

This is a difficult topic to comment on from a medical point of view. The “conventional medical treatment” mentioned in the article regarding mastectomy & chemotherapy are medical treatments that have been studied in “large, multi-center, randomized, double-blind clinical trials” with adequate “power” to prove “significant” differences in the treatments being studied. If you have never been exposed to the concepts of epidemiology, case studies, anecdotal stories, case-series, retrospective and prospective studies, it is difficult to appreciate the differences between medical therapies that carry risks of side effects or bad outcomes to non-traditional healing methods, whether spiritual, herbal, or whatever. It may be tempting to believe that the good outcome your friend had with (pick a non-conventialal non-medical therapy) will work for you too.

Medical treatments and drug approvals are based on studies of large numbers of patients, in multiple major medical centers who are treated in a truly randomized fashion (control vs. treatment) with predefined outcomes (remission of cancer for example, extra years of life, decreased incidence of strokes when treating blood pressure…) and predefined numbers of patients required to study in order to be certain that the results you see are not likely to be purely by chance. So statistically speaking, if you opt for a treatment studied in this way, you are likely to see similar results to those patients in the study. THis is the main type of support that doctors have to justify things like medicines, surgerys, procedures and other things that may have harmful side effects.

Natural healing, on the other hand, has very, very little scientific support. That does not mean that non-medical methods don’t work or don’t have potential, it means that they have not been studied as rigorously…frequently because there is no means by which to profit from positive results. Funding for these studies is difficult. In this day of modern medicine where physicians are likely to be sued for not following the “standard of care” which is established in the types of studies mentioned above, a physician has little choice but to prescribe medicines and reccomend procedures. In defense of this, medicines work and surgeries frequently cure.

But in the end, people belive what they want to believe and do what they want to do. It is frustrating when a patient won’t take their medicine or won’t get a recommended operation, and you always have to wonder if they really have an understanding of the potential outcomes. Did the lady in this article realize what breast cancer could do if left untreated? Did she know it could cause horrible pain, paralysis and poor quality of life before it eventually kills? She probably was afraid to think it through that far. THink of how many people die of colon cancer because they were embarassed to get a colonoscopy done? If you don’t know, its a lot. Cancer is the 2nd largest cause of death in the US next to heart disease. and colon cancer the third leading cause of cancer death. (First is lung, second is breast in women and prostate in men).

Finally, who knows how far advanced the cancer was when it was diagnosed. Maybe the healer did cure her breast mass, but it was already spread to her bones. Surgery would have helped, but not cured. It’s impossible to predict the future or how outcomes would have been different in any single case. On the other hand, if you took thousands of women with the same stage of cancer, most would have been helped with the surgery, but many would not have. Perhaps she would have been in the latter group.

This has been somewhat of a technical commentary on a very spiritual story. I’m sorry I can’t explain why your friend chose the path she did, but if you want to be morbid, we all start a slow death from the day we are born. We can’t fault anyone for developing the health problems they do…George Burns smoked his whole life and lived to be over 100, while Jimi Hendrix died on his own vomit after a binge on drugs and alcohol. Both contributed great things to their field in their lifetimes.

I am a strong believer that your mental attitude has a huge impact on your health, and I strongly reccomend yoga, meditation and daily aerobic exercise to all who are able. But I also recommend that you take the medicines that your doctor prescribes!