A new study out of the Cancer Institute of New Jersey on early-stage prostate cancer found that hormone therapy treatment did nothing at all to prolong survival.
When cancer strikes, even the alternative-minded among us sometimes get scared into the arms of the medical mainstream — and unfortunately, that’s not necessarily advantageous. For example, in the case of at least one highly touted traditional approach — hormone therapy for early prostate cancer — evidence now shows that the treatment imparts absolutely no benefit for older men, and plenty of risk. Because prostate cancer tends to grow slowly in people over 70, most elderly patients choose to avoid risky surgery or radiation therapy unless their cancer spreads more rapidly than anticipated. Instead, they opt to see if the cancer becomes problematic — an approach known as “conservative management” — or, quite frequently, they undergo androgen-deprivation (hormone) therapy, which blocks the production of male hormones via drugs or implants.
But now, a new study out of the Cancer Institute of New Jersey reviewed data on 19,271 men diagnosed with early-stage prostate cancer and found that although 40-percent of them opted to undergo hormone therapy, the treatment did nothing at all to prolong their survival. According to the research findings, after hormone therapy was administered for approximately 18 months, the subjects showed no increase in survival when compared to subjects who opted to do nothing other than monitor their condition. In fact, the mortality from prostate cancer was actually slightly higher in the group that underwent hormone therapy as compared to the do-nothing group. Because the study focused on men over age 66 with early-stage cancer, it’s unclear if the treatment might benefit younger patients.
Hormone therapy has been viewed as a good compromise approach for those who fear doing nothing, but who want to avoid the more radical interventions of surgery and radiation. (Doctors just hate to do nothing. It feels too much like impotence.) According to the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, the percentage of low-risk patients treated with hormone therapy instead of surgery or radiation tripled between 1989 and 2001, and that trend upward has continued. But the compromise-approach now has been compromised by the results of this new study. The findings confirm that hormone therapy just doesn’t work.
Unfortunately, the bad news doesn’t stop at the fact that the treatment isn’t effective. To add insult to injury, the side effects of hormone blockers can range from debilitating to deadly. Plenty of research shows an increased risk of developing serious conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, liver problems, anemia, and osteoporosis. Add to that list an array of ugly side effects that don’t necessarily kill the body, but that can destroy the spirit — impotence, exhaustion, insomnia, breast tissue growth, hot flashes, depression, and weight gain. A 2005 study published in CANCER found a link between androgen blockers and cognitive decline affecting verbal fluency, visual recognition, and visual memory.
And so we have yet another example of a treatment modality that doctors have widely recommended to their patients that turns out, on closer examination, to be little more than dangerous hocus-pocus. How many years and on how many men and at what cost was this unproven treatment used — only to be proven ineffective in the end? It’s downright maddening that the medical establishment continues to declare its methods superior to the alternative approach, when in the end, alternative therapy is no less “scientific” than most medicine, costs a whole lot less, is at least as effective, and generally doesn’t produce the same level of side effects. (The father-in-law of one of our Foundation researchers happens to be a recipient of hormone-blocking therapy. Reading these research results after watching him suffer from the after-effects of the treatment infuriated her no end.)
A cursory Google search using the term, “dangers of alternative cancer treatments” turned up 2,530,000 results. Among the first of these results is a page from Johns Hopkins Hospital, bearing the scary title: Alternative Cancer Treatments: Unproven and Potentially Unsafe.” The article warns patients against the menace of relying on dietary approaches, colon cleanses, and various supplements and teas.
Perhaps the authors at Johns Hopkins should add a companion piece entitled: “Mainstream Prostate Cancer Treatments: Now Proven Ineffective, Unsafe — and Guaranteed to Make Men Grow Boobs.”