Survey: 4 in 10 Americans believe alternative treatments can cure cancer

About four in 10 Americans believe cancer can be cured solely through alternative therapies, according to ASCO’s second annual National Cancer Opinion Survey.

In addition, the percentage of Americans who are worried about the financial impact of cancer is equivalent to the percentage who are worried about dying of cancer, results showed.

“This survey serves as a barometer of the American people’s views on important cancer-related issues,” ASCO President Monica Bertagnolli, MD, FACS, FASCO, chief of the division of surgical oncology at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center, professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School, and associate surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, said in a press release. “It has revealed a number of critical areas we urgently need to address, from correcting widespread misinformation about cancer treatments, to ensuring patients have access to the pain medication they need, to alleviating the financial distress both patients and their loved ones experience too frequently.”

The ASCO-commissioned survey was conducted online by The Harris Poll from July 10 through Aug. 10. The data are based on responses from 4,887 U.S. adults, 1,001 of whom have or had cancer.

The survey showed 39% of all respondents believe cancer can be cured solely using alternative treatments, such as enzyme and oxygen therapy, diet, vitamins and minerals. Twenty-two percent of respondents who have or had cancer, and 38% of respondents who serve or have served as caregivers of people with cancer, expressed the same view.

However, a study published in Journal of the National Cancer Institute showed patients with common cancers who chose to treat them only with alternative medicine had a 2.5-fold greater risk for mortality than those who received standard cancer treatments, such as surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, immunotherapy or hormone-based therapies.

“There is no question that evidence-based cancer therapy is necessary to effectively treat the disease,” ASCO Chief Medical Officer Richard L. Schilsky, MD, FACP, FASCO, said in the release. “The vast majority of alternative therapies either haven’t been rigorously studied or haven’t been found to benefit patients. When patients are making critical decisions about which cancer treatments to undergo, it is always best to follow the evidence from well-designed research studies.”

More than half (57%) of respondents indicated that, if they were diagnosed with cancer, they would be most concerned about paying for treatment or the financial impact on their families. A slightly lower percentage (54%) indicated they would be most concerned about dying of cancer or experiencing cancer-related pain and suffering.

The survey highlighted the financial burden caregivers face.

Nearly three-quarters (74%) of caregivers responsible for paying for cancer care indicated they are concerned about affording it, and more than half (61%) said they or another relative took an extreme step to pay for a loved one’s care, such as tapping into savings accounts (35%), working extra hours (23%), making an early withdrawal from a college fund or retirement account (14%), delaying retirement (14%), taking out a second mortgage or other loan (13%), taking an extra job (13%) or selling family heirlooms (9%).

“Patients are right to be concerned about the financial impact of a cancer diagnosis on their families,” Schilsky said. “It’s clear that high treatment costs are taking a serious toll, not only on patients but also on the people who care for them. If a family member has been diagnosed with cancer, the sole focus should be helping them get well.”

Among other key findings:

A majority of respondents indicated Medicare should be allowed to directly negotiate prescription drug prices with drug makers (88%) and that the government should regulate the price of cancer drugs to help lower costs (86%). More than three-quarters (77%) said it should be legal for U.S. residents to buy cancer drugs from pharmacies in other countries.

Most respondents (73%) suggested any new regulations intended to make prescription opioids more difficult to obtain should not apply to individuals with cancer. Access may be a challenge, however. Although the sample size was small, 40% of survey respondents who have or had cancer and used opioids in the past year to manage pain or other symptoms reported having trouble accessing them.

Most respondents (83%) indicated patients with cancer should be able to use medical marijuana, but 48% of respondents who used it in the past year reported they had trouble obtaining it. In addition, more than half (58%) of respondents who have or had cancer indicated they wished more information had been available about the benefits of medical marijuana for symptom relief.

Rural Americans are nearly twice as likely as those who live in urban or suburban neighborhoods to say there are not enough physicians near their homes who specialize in cancer care (40% vs. 22%). Rural Americans also report a longer typical one-way drive to see their cancer specialist (50 minutes vs. 30 minutes).

“The unfortunate reality is that rural Americans routinely have to travel long distances for cancer care, which can lead to dangerous delays in their diagnosis and treatment,” Bertagnolli said. “As a result, rural counties have higher death rates from many common cancers than urban areas. Our health care system needs to address these disparities so that every patient, no matter where they live, can access high-quality cancer care.”

About four in 10 Americans believe cancer can be cured solely through alternative therapies, according to ASCO’s second annual National Cancer Opinion Survey.

In addition, the percentage of Americans who are worried about the financial impact of cancer is equivalent to the percentage who are worried about dying of cancer, results showed.

“This survey serves as a barometer of the American people’s views on important cancer-related issues,” ASCO President Monica Bertagnolli, MD, FACS, FASCO, chief of the division of surgical oncology at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center, professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School, and associate surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, said in a press release. “It has revealed a number of critical areas we urgently need to address, from correcting widespread misinformation about cancer treatments, to ensuring patients have access to the pain medication they need, to alleviating the financial distress both patients and their loved ones experience too frequently.”

The ASCO-commissioned survey was conducted online by The Harris Poll from July 10 through Aug. 10. The data are based on responses from 4,887 U.S. adults, 1,001 of whom have or had cancer.

The survey showed 39% of all respondents believe cancer can be cured solely using alternative treatments, such as enzyme and oxygen therapy, diet, vitamins and minerals. Twenty-two percent of respondents who have or had cancer, and 38% of respondents who serve or have served as caregivers of people with cancer, expressed the same view.

However, a study published in Journal of the National Cancer Institute showed patients with common cancers who chose to treat them only with alternative medicine had a 2.5-fold greater risk for mortality than those who received standard cancer treatments, such as surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, immunotherapy or hormone-based therapies.

“There is no question that evidence-based cancer therapy is necessary to effectively treat the disease,” ASCO Chief Medical Officer Richard L. Schilsky, MD, FACP, FASCO, said in the release. “The vast majority of alternative therapies either haven’t been rigorously studied or haven’t been found to benefit patients. When patients are making critical decisions about which cancer treatments to undergo, it is always best to follow the evidence from well-designed research studies.”

More than half (57%) of respondents indicated that, if they were diagnosed with cancer, they would be most concerned about paying for treatment or the financial impact on their families. A slightly lower percentage (54%) indicated they would be most concerned about dying of cancer or experiencing cancer-related pain and suffering.

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The survey highlighted the financial burden caregivers face.

Nearly three-quarters (74%) of caregivers responsible for paying for cancer care indicated they are concerned about affording it, and more than half (61%) said they or another relative took an extreme step to pay for a loved one’s care, such as tapping into savings accounts (35%), working extra hours (23%), making an early withdrawal from a college fund or retirement account (14%), delaying retirement (14%), taking out a second mortgage or other loan (13%), taking an extra job (13%) or selling family heirlooms (9%).

“Patients are right to be concerned about the financial impact of a cancer diagnosis on their families,” Schilsky said. “It’s clear that high treatment costs are taking a serious toll, not only on patients but also on the people who care for them. If a family member has been diagnosed with cancer, the sole focus should be helping them get well.”

Among other key findings:

A majority of respondents indicated Medicare should be allowed to directly negotiate prescription drug prices with drug makers (88%) and that the government should regulate the price of cancer drugs to help lower costs (86%). More than three-quarters (77%) said it should be legal for U.S. residents to buy cancer drugs from pharmacies in other countries.

Most respondents (73%) suggested any new regulations intended to make prescription opioids more difficult to obtain should not apply to individuals with cancer. Access may be a challenge, however. Although the sample size was small, 40% of survey respondents who have or had cancer and used opioids in the past year to manage pain or other symptoms reported having trouble accessing them.

Most respondents (83%) indicated patients with cancer should be able to use medical marijuana, but 48% of respondents who used it in the past year reported they had trouble obtaining it. In addition, more than half (58%) of respondents who have or had cancer indicated they wished more information had been available about the benefits of medical marijuana for symptom relief.

Rural Americans are nearly twice as likely as those who live in urban or suburban neighborhoods to say there are not enough physicians near their homes who specialize in cancer care (40% vs. 22%). Rural Americans also report a longer typical one-way drive to see their cancer specialist (50 minutes vs. 30 minutes).

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“The unfortunate reality is that rural Americans routinely have to travel long distances for cancer care, which can lead to dangerous delays in their diagnosis and treatment,” Bertagnolli said. “As a result, rural counties have higher death rates from many common cancers than urban areas. Our health care system needs to address these disparities so that every patient, no matter where they live, can access high-quality cancer care.”