Cancer patients warned to avoid untested therapies

Local | Riley Chan Jul 14, 2017
Doctors warn against cancer immunotherapy treatment claims outside hospital, saying most are not evidence- based.

In a survey by the Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Hong Kong in April and May, more than half of the 150 cancer patients interviewed said they had taken supplements or medicine provided outside hospital to improve their immune systems.

About 20 percent said they underwent the so-called "immunotherapy treatments" in health-care centers. Some - 42.8 percent - learned about the treatment method from friends and relatives, while nearly 27 percent found out through social media.

Immunotherapy is believed by many to be the new hope of cancer cure, as it boosts the body's natural defenses to fight the cancer cells. It's a rather natural method that uses substances made by the body, or in a laboratory, to improve or restore immune system functions.

The treatment has become common in recent years, with many local health- care centers offering it to patients, claiming there are no side effects.

However, society president William Chui Chun-ming warned patients on the safety and effectiveness of these unauthorized treatments. "A lot of these so-called immunotherapy treatments are not evidence-based, nor medically proven," he said. "Immunotherapy also has side effects, just like any other cancer treatments."

There are two registered types of immunotherapy treatments used by doctors in the SAR. Both are injections - the method recognized by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network in the United States, and the European Society for Medical Oncology. It is usually used to treat late-stage lung cancer. Patients who undergo immunotherapy have a survival rate of 30-40 percent higher than those who received chemotherapy.

Chui said any other treatments provided here are still at the research stage.

Clinical oncology specialist Patricia Poon Che-mun shared a case of a 40-year-old lung cancer patient, whose condition deteriorated after consulting a mainland doctor who claimed to provide immunotherapy.

She said although there was no evidence the treatment led to the condition worsening, it proved ineffective.

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June 2018