What happens to cancer patients who choose "alternative" treatments?

Perhaps a little off-topic for PT, but that is the headline of an article posted by Nutrition Action today. I think you can read it without a subscription. At any rate, researchers at Yale University School of Medicine identified 280 patients who chose unproven (“alternative”) treatments for several non-metastatic cancers: breast, prostate, lung, and colorectal, which the authors say are the 4 most prevalent cancers in the United States. The researchers compared these patients’ 5-year survival rates with 560 patients who chose conventional treatment (they did not study people who used unproven treatments in conjunction with conventional medicine).

Bottom line: The patients who chose the unproven treatments were substantially more likely to die of breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and lung cancer, though no more likely to die of prostate cancer.

Depressingly, the Nutrition Action article, written by Lindsay Moyer, noted, “Those who chose alternative treatments had higher socioeconomic status and education, were more likely to live in the western United States, and had fewer other illnesses than other patients.”

I looked up the original article here; it is available “FREE.” Like many articles in unfamiliar fields, it is largely Greek to me, so I scrolled down to the bottom to look at the figures. These are graphs that show the fraction of survivors vs. time from 0 to 84 months (7 years). The difference in survival is striking: even for prostate cancer, where around 90 % of patients survived the 84 months, the difference between the two groups is noticeable to the naked eye (even though it was apparently not statistically significant).

This was a small study, and I suppose the findings cannot be considered definitive. Still, it appears likely that those who choose an unproven treatment alone are taking a very considerable risk.