Doctors' organisation warns of alternative medicine in cancer treatment

Czech doctors are sounding alarm bells over unscientific treatment of serious illnesses. The Czech Medical Chamber has just released a list of selected alternative medicine practices on its website as part of a text called "The Risks of Alternative Medicine in Cancer Treatment". The organisation says it wants to warn patients against the unrealisable promises of "healers".

The warning is targeted primarily at potential or actual cancer patients who, according to the Czech Medical Chamber, are the most likely to turn to self-proclaimed healers for help. Oncologist Pavel Klener, who compiled the list of alternative practices for the website, says that when such patients finally seek authorised medical care, it may be too late.

"They get to us in an advanced stage of the illness. If a tumour remains untreated for a couple of weeks, nothing much happens. But if the illness is neglected for six months or longer, the cancer could have disseminated, or the tumour could have grown so much it can no longer be removed surgically. There is treatment available for these patients but it is much more complex and involves many side effects for the patients."

Professor Pavel Klener says he regrets there is no legislation in the Czech Republic or other EU countries that would protect patients against those practicing alternative medicine without any qualification and potentially threatening their health. He suggests that a law stipulating punishments for healers who harm their clients through neglect or malpractice could be included in the upcoming health care reforms. Health Ministry spokesman Tomas Cikrt says the ministry has no such plan.

"The Health Ministry is not preparing any legislation regarding healers. We believe everybody is responsible for their own health and should actively seek information as to what is being offered to them and by whom. We would also appreciate if expert associations did not keep quiet and communicated more with the public and warned them of potential risks."

Both Tomas Cikrt and oncologist Pavel Klener agree doctors themselves could help if they talk to patients and their families so they can make informed decisions. Doctor Klener also says the fact that Czech doctors are overworked and do not have enough time to discuss their patients' feelings makes people turn for comfort and care elsewhere.