Additive homeopathy in cancer patients: Retrospective survival data from a homeopathic outpatient unit at the Medical University of Vienna

Author links open overlay panelKatharinaGaertnerabMichaelMüllneraHelmutFriehsaErnstSchustercChristineMarosiaIlseMuchitscheMichaelFrassadAlan DavidKayef

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctim.2013.12.014Get rights and content

Summary

Background

Current literature suggests a positive influence of additive classical homeopathy on global health and well-being in cancer patients. Besides encouraging case reports, there is little if any research on long-term survival of patients who obtain homeopathic care during cancer treatment.

Design

Data from cancer patients who had undergone homeopathic treatment complementary to conventional anti-cancer treatment at the Outpatient Unit for Homeopathy in Malignant Diseases, Medical University Vienna, Department of Medicine I, Vienna, Austria, were collected, described and a retrospective subgroup-analysis with regard to survival time was performed. Patient inclusion criteria were at least three homeopathic consultations, fatal prognosis of disease, quantitative and qualitative description of patient characteristics, and survival time.

Results

In four years, a total of 538 patients were recorded to have visited the Outpatient Unit Homeopathy in Malignant Diseases, Medical University Vienna, Department of Medicine I, Vienna, Austria. 62.8% of them were women, and nearly 20% had breast cancer. From the 53.7% (n = 287) who had undergone at least three homeopathic consultations within four years, 18.7% (n = 54) fulfilled inclusion criteria for survival analysis. The surveyed neoplasms were glioblastoma, lung, cholangiocellular and pancreatic carcinomas, metastasized sarcoma, and renal cell carcinoma. Median overall survival was compared to expert expectations of survival outcomes by specific cancer type and was prolonged across observed cancer entities (p < 0.001).

Conclusion

Extended survival time in this sample of cancer patients with fatal prognosis but additive homeopathic treatment is interesting. However, findings are based on a small sample, and with only limited data available about patient and treatment characteristics. The relationship between homeopathic treatment and survival time requires prospective investigation in larger samples possibly using matched-pair control analysis or randomized trials.

Introduction

The use of homeopathy to enhance wellness in society, as well as in clinical settings, is increasing.1, 2, 3, 4 Yet, homeopathic methods are often considered controversial, and their effects have not been tested adequately by conventional study designs.2, 5, 6, 7, 8 Nonetheless, there are suggestions that the use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and homeopathy in particular is especially high in patients with chronic diseases,9 such as cancer. In Europe, unlike in the United States,10 homeopathy is one of the most common CAM-therapies used in cancer. It is reported to be used in 12–24% of cancer patients.11, 12 Studies have documented relief of adverse drug reactions and better health-related quality of life in cancer patients with additive homeopathic treatment.13 These conclusions are based largely on case reports and limited data regarding patient survival is limited.14, 15, 16, 17

The present study was prompted by anecdotal impressions suggesting that glioblastoma patients provided supplemental homeopathic treatment experienced extended survival times at the Outpatient Unit for Homeopathy in Malignant Diseases at the Department of Medicine I, Medical University of Vienna, Austria. To determine whether these impressions were reliable, a retrospective data analysis was performed. The specific aim was to test the predictive value for forthcoming trials on survival time of cancer patients, treated complementarily with homeopathy compared with average life expectancy. Alongside the analysis targets a description of patients attending the Unit.

Section snippets

Materials and methods

The study was approved by the Ethical Committee of the Medical University Vienna. Recruitment involved retrospective manual data collection from patient records at the Outpatient Unit “Homeopathy in Malignant Diseases”, Medical University of Vienna and the university hospitals’ documentary system. Data were processed in three steps: Characteristics (e.g. name, age, sex, and tumor entity) and dates of homeopathic consultations from all patients with the first consultation between March 2004 and

Patient characteristics

During the first four years, 538 patients presented at the study center for homeopathic treatment related to diagnosed cancer (group 1; 62.8% women) all of them receiving homeopathic treatment at least once. Numbers of patients and their proportioning can be seen in Table 1. Mean age of total patients was 57 years (29–77 years). 53.7% (n = 287; group 2) of patients had at least three homeopathic consultations. Mean of appointment frequency was 4.6 in all patients and 8.2 in those with three or

Discussion

Compared to the literature, the study findings indicate longer survival for patients with additive homeopathy during cancer treatment than those with conventional treatment alone. Although results are promising and suggest the need for additional work, several important study limitations are noted. The sample of patients is small and drawn only from one clinic. It is not possible to assume that the potential effects of homeopathic treatment are more or less helpful for specific cancer entities.

Conflict of interest

The authors have no conflict of interest to declare.

Acknowledgements

Gratitude for the contribution to this project is given to: Dr. M. Kaiblinger, Dr. H. Lasslesberger, Dr. N. Szymanski, B.Sc. V. Gaertner and collaboration from the Medical University of Vienna, especially to Dr. Th. Brodowicz, Dr. Kornek, Dr. U. Vogl, Dr. M. Pirker, and Dr. Chr. Zielinski. Significant appreciation is noted for Dr. Patricia B. Sutker, Ph.D., and Albert N. Allain, M.S., for their assistance in the final version of this manuscript.

References (43)

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