False hope alert over cancer diets

Health and ethics experts are worried about a wave of unproved alternative therapies which they say offer false hope to the growing numbers of people facing cancer.

Edith Cowan University ethics expert Julie Crews said there was a dangerous trend of people making explicit claims about highly restrictive diets being responsible for their survival from cancer, while the role of traditional medical treatment such as chemotherapy was discredited or "airbrushed out" of their stories.

University of Tasmania oncologist Ray Lowenthal, a critic of unproved alternative therapies, said easy access to information on the internet had created a market that promoted questionable therapies.

"It cuts both ways on the internet these days, with it being so easy to find all sorts of information, both accurate and inaccurate," he said. "I am quite concerned about people who might forgo conventional evidence-based treatment for dietary measures and other measures that are without evidence.

"A lot of what they claim is speculation or fanciful thoughts without any truth."

Professor Lowenthal said people should use websites run by reputable cancer societies to get accurate information.

Cancer Council WA nutrition and physical activity manager Steve Pratt, who convenes the Dietitians Association of Australia's oncology interest group, said there was good evidence that complementary therapies could be very effective in helping cancer patients but alternative therapies could be risky. Some extreme diets promoted for cancer patients were too low in protein.

"Among alternative practitioners there are unfortunately a group of people who promise things they simply can't back with evidence," he said.

"When you get into alternative therapies, you're putting your life in your own hands."


The West Australian

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