I had a little 7 yr old girl who came into my OPD today with a bald head, but a bright smile. Her bright eyes and easy-going attitude brought a smile to my face. However, as I heard the parents describe her journey and fight with cancer, my smile soon vanished.
The little girl had been diagnosed with a rare but aggressive form of blood cancer 4 months ago when she presented at one of the leading hospitals in Mumbai with a white cell count (WCC) which was 4.5 lakhs/cumm (the normal WCC is 5-11000/cumm). Treatment was started and though she had a tumulus course with seizures, weight loss, and loss of appetite and jaundice, her disease was in remission at the end of 1 month. The family then decided to take alternative medication and gave up allopathic chemotherapy because they were given an assurance that their child would be alright and cured of her cancer. However, her disease recurred in the last week and now the family was running from pillar to post looking for a centre which would be able to cure their child.
Alternative therapy is a big thing not only in India but is also finding a lot of favour in the West. Being an Allopathic Medical Practitioner, it is very disheartening to see such cases. I then began my search and here are some of the things that I have come across in the last few days:
A recent study by the National Cancer Institute found that “Forgoing Conventional Cancer Treatments for Alternative Medicine Increases Risk of Death”. Reuter Health also carried an article saying that “Children with Cancer often use alternative medicine”. And this number may be as high as 91%.
What is our take on this?
As Allopathic Medicine Practitioners, we do not have knowledge of other forms of medicine – we do not know whether the effects of the two medications would be complementary to each other or may harm the child more by decreasing the efficacy and increasing the side effects. Hence, it is not right to give them together. What we know is that there is a dearth of data to back the claims made by these practitioners. Most of the pediatric cancers are curable with conventional chemotherapy and alternative medications, often delay initiation of therapy or give the disease a chance to grow. In a case like the one mentioned above, stopping treatment mid-way makes the relapse more difficult to treat.
Some therapies can increase the risk of infections as they contain bacteria or fungi, and a child with Cancer is especially prone to infections.
Some therapies may be harmful to the children as they contain heavy metals and or steroids.
The complementary and alternative therapies that we believe in are:
- Music therapy
- Art therapy
Not only do these generate a positive feeling in the child, but they also help in taking the mind away from the disease, chemotherapy, and the side effects that the child may be facing.
- Trust your doctor – No pediatric oncologist would like to wish harm to your child. We too want your child to survive and be proof of our belief that pediatric cancers are curable.
- Do not mix two lines of therapy.
- Chemotherapy and its side effects may be painful and the ups and downs in your child’s health may shake your faith in the system; however, it is important to continue care.
- Do not believe in miracle cures.
- No one can promise a 100% cure. There are children who may have a good risk disease and yet die during their therapy and there would be some who had a bad disease but did well with treatment.