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Letter: Physician urges caution


I want to comment on the recent story by Bob Cox entitled, “Local man shares his cancer journey” that appeared in the Feb. 15 edition of the Journal Review. First of all, it’s fantastic that Mr. Owen’s squamous cell cancer has gone into remission.

I have not seen Mr. Owen’s medical files, and I am not an oncologist. I have also not reviewed his case study, “Why Supplements I Used Saved My Life,” and don’t know the details of why his case was considered “ground breaking.” Why has the Mayo Clinic apparently shown interest? Was it the vitamins and hydration alone, or a more general interest in why such an aggressive cancer responded so rapidly?

The primary purpose of this response is to caution your readers about supplements in general. I frequently encountered patients in my medical practice who asked me about taking supplements and vitamins for all manner of medical conditions. Unfortunately, I had a few who suffered bad outcomes from relying solely on them rather than having pursued traditional medical treatments supported by scientific evidence. It was encouraging to see Mr. Owen was treated with chemotherapy and radiation, in addition to his supplements.

I would advise anyone to be very careful when considering treating any medical condition solely with supplements. They are not regulated by the FDA. There is usually scant to no evidence supporting their effectiveness (other than perhaps some poorly designed “studies” that appear on obscure websites or social media channels, usually where the supplements are being sold). Relying on supplements can delay receiving effective medical treatments. Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, serves as a cautionary tale of how delaying traditional therapy likely led to his premature death from pancreatic cancer.

I often hear the cynical argument that pharmaceutical companies don’t want to cure cancer; that they want to keep people sick so they can continue to sell chemotherapy drugs to make money. It’s a ridiculous argument. Cancer treatment research is progressing rapidly. More people are living longer and being cured than ever before. A drug company that develops a cure for whatever type of cancer will be able to name its price. Will supplements be a part of that equation? Perhaps, but time and research (perhaps including Mr. Owen’s case study) will be required to answer the question. But for now, the evidence is lacking.

John R. Roberts, MD