General Question

Aster's avatar

Do you believe people with cancer live longer if left untreated?

Asked by Aster (19949points) June 14th, 2015

I read a so-called study yesterday claiming untreated cancer victims live longer if they avoid chemo, surgery and radiation. What is your opinion of this strategy?

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46 Answers

filmfann's avatar

Blindly ignorant. I could be much more specific if this was in Social.

Buttonstc's avatar

There are so many different types of cancer in addition to individual people’s tolerance level for the side effects of chemo and radiation particularly that it’s impossible to generalize to as simplistic a degree as presented in the question.

It’s also dependent upon whether the cancer is classified as a stage one (very early diagnosis) or stage four (very advanced and difficult to treat).

Also cancers differ in their rate of growth and destruction. There are many types of Prostate cancer which are so slow growing that it’s likely that an elderly man may well die of plain old age before Prostate cancer.

But there are other far more aggressive and hard to discover types of cancer (such as Pancreatic cancer) which typically leave a person with a year or less to live regardless of the treatment. So, in that case, the person might well opt to just enjoy whatever time he has left rather than suffering through chemo.

So, that’s just two brief examples of why there is no simplistic, one size fits all answer to the question you pose.

PS: how about a link to this “study” you reference? I have a hunch it’s unlikely to be from a reputable source (like Mayo Clinic, for example).

Judi's avatar

No.
There may be some people who are killed by the treatment. You have to be a strong mo fo to survive chemo and radiation but in general, skipping treatment because you will live longer is a pretty ignorant idea.

canidmajor's avatar

No. I knew three people who ascribed to this thinking. They are all dead now, and two of them had very treatable, high-survival rate, cancers.

elbanditoroso's avatar

Utter bullshit.

But I am in favor of each person bearing the consequences of their own stupidity.

Coloma's avatar

Sometimes yes, sometimes no, depending on the cancer and it’s stages when diagnosed. I have decided, long ago, that I will refuse invasive treatments in the event of a serious cancer.
If my odds of survival are 75% or better, maybe go for treatments, if they are 50% or less I will just let nature take it;s course. All disease is a side effect of living and I’d rather have 3 good months than 3 years of misery.

I just don’t find the idea of my mortality upsetting, everything dies, sooner or later and what do we expect to die of anyway, Tulips sprouting in our brains. lol
Nope, I’ll just sit in nature and take pain meds and go out gracefully, thanks.

canidmajor's avatar

@Judi: the good news is that treatments are getting more and more refined, more targeted to the individual’s cancer, body and DNA, and so much less the bludgeoning that I took 20 years ago, that so many are uncomfortable and weak instead of being destroyed by treatment. They are also now really working on the concept of actively using one’s own immune system as a treatment option. It’s very cool. The recent Ken Burns cancer documentary is worth watching. :-)

marinelife's avatar

Totally misguided.

JLeslie's avatar

Some people yes. Sometimes the treatment winds up being deadly. However, the majority of cases absolutely not.

Some treatments only help extend life, but the cancer is terminal. Those people can decide whether to refuse treatment to avoid side effects and maybe feel healthier for a longer time, but die sooner.

Some cancer treatments have incredibly good success at “curing” cancer and it never comes back again. To refuse statistically effective treatments is ridiculous.

Aster's avatar

I’ve only known four people with cancer. Two were stage IV, had all the toxic treatments recommended and both died. One had a huge kidney removed eight years ago and is still alive and never had chemo. The one who lived for decades had the chemo but was only a stage I or II. She said, “I’d rather die than go through that again.” She died of bladder cancer at eighty something which I’ve read is a side effect of ever having traditional treatment. If I think about it further I might be able to remember others but it’s too stressful to ponder anymore.

Judi's avatar

@canidmajor, I hear you. I have a friend who just went through treatment. Had the proton treatment because the Cancer was so close to his brain. He was very brave and candid about it and shared what was happening on facebook all along the way.
After the treatment the doctor says there’s no sign of cancer and he’ll see him in 6 months.
Now that the adrilaline is worn off from treatment he still feels like shit trying to recover from the treatment. Not being quite so transparent anymore, sleeping a lot (according to his wife.)
There was only a 10% survival rate but he’s young and has kids. He fought it and apparently won, but is having trouble emotionally and physically recovering from the treatment.

Darth_Algar's avatar

My sister-in-law was diagnosed with breast cancer, had the standard treatments, and has now lived several years with no sign of the cancer.

josie's avatar

It is getting perilously close to the point where I can say I have heard everything. Much of it on Fluther.

canidmajor's avatar

@Aster : This seems to be a recurring concern of yours, but frankly, because every person is so different, every cancer is so different, and even the stages denote different things. Stage III of one type of cell growth might be virtually impossible to treat successfully, while Stage IV of another might be treatable and survivable. I’ve known Stage III cervical cancer patients to survive with treatment that, while aggressive for that type, didn’t leave them infirm or badly damaged, and I knew a Stage II pancreatic who didn’t survive even with aggressive treatment, but whose life was extended long enough for him to get his affairs in order.
It’s a damned crap shoot. Personally, I would fight to stick around again if the odds were reasonable.

cazzie's avatar

I know a very happy and healthy 11 year old boy who is very thankful for having gone through life saving cancer treatment not once, but twice in his short, but saved, life.

JLeslie's avatar

@Aster I have a friend who was in her early 40’s when she had breast cancer. She had a lumpectomy and then did chemo and radiation for good measure. I said to my husband that I don’t think I would have done the chemo or radiation. It was just for good measure, and her cancer was very small and all borders were clear. Now, from what I understand, they don’t recommend one of the two for the cancer she had, I don’t remember if it’s the chemo or the radiation. So, crap, she already did it, and now the recommendation changed based on outcomes. That sort of thing one could argue it’s better not to go through the treatment, but we only know what we know at the time.

Suzanne Sommers is against a lot of treatments done for cancer, but even she says she would do certain treatments that have incredible rates of recovery.

SQUEEKY2's avatar

Can’t add anything that hasn’t been said already, it would have to depend on the type of cancer and what stage it was in.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

No, I do not believe that.

The examples given in a latter post are not enough to found a basis for a hypothesis of untreated cancer patients live longer. What does matter is the type of cancer, its stage, and the quality of medical treatment used.

cazzie's avatar

Well, Susanne Summers! That is definitive medical advice if I ever heard it. Has anyone got Jenny McCarthy’s advice on this?

chyna's avatar

@Aster My mom had bladder cancer and had never had any type of cancer before that, so had never been treated. I have never heard that bladder cancer was a side effect of treatments, but I certainly don’t know everything. She had her bladder removed and had no type of treatments. She lived 30 more years without a bladder.
At the time of her cancer, it was thought to have been caused by smoking or working in a chemical plant, both of which she had done.

JLeslie's avatar

@cazzie My point was even Suzanne Somers who is anti all sorts of cancer treatments, she is way off the deep end of it, is in favor of some of them. The OP seems to be making a blanket statement about all chemotherapies.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Removing the bladder is a form of “treatment,” @chyna.

chyna's avatar

I meant she had no chemo or radiation after having it removed.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@Aster If you are serious about finding out the answer, just search the internet for “cancer survivors treated vs. untreated.” I just did, and there is a plethora of medical studies that will provide more accurate information than our anecdotes.

LuckyGuy's avatar

If you ignore the severity of the cancer you can abuse the data and find that relationship – even if it is meaningless.
For example Imagine you have 3 groups of cancer patients:
Group I: Mild case
Group II: Slightly debilitating
Group III: Life threatening.

Now consider that the Group I people will likely have no treatment.
The Group II patients will have mild treatment.
The Group III patients will have everything thrown at them.

Odds are pretty good that the Group I patients will live longer than the Group II or III patients because their cancer is indolent.

Suzanne Summers can ignore the severity of the cancer and just plot the data looking at treatment and survival. That will show exactly what she wants to see so she can hawk her nonsense. But scientifically and statistically the results are meaningless. The tests need to be controlled for like cancer severity.

talljasperman's avatar

No. But you will save money from health costs.

Dutchess_III's avatar

What good is money if your dead?

talljasperman's avatar

@Dutchess_lll You can give it to your children. No point being broke and dead. Aaron Clarey believes in the smith and wesson retirement plan.

Aster's avatar

Suzanne Somers’ books do not depict her as an expert on cancer or it’s treatments. Everything she prints about it she learned from interviewing doctors. In her books, she details all the questions she asks doctors and writes down what they say which then goes into her books.
And much of what doctors learn about their profession they learned from books. Not to say Suzanne’s a doctor by any means. Just that she gets her information from them. Other than a writer she used to be an actress. That’s all I’m saying.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I think my kids would have preferred I used the money to try and save my life. They like me more than they like money.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

Yes many would probably live a little longer without treatment. With treatment at least there is a chance you may live a lot longer. I’ll take the odds and get treated myself.

JLeslie's avatar

Think about pancreatic cancer. Steve Jobs (of Apple) decided not to get surgery. He was in the small group of people who catch that cancer early and it was operable. Most people catch the cancer late and it is inoperable. When surgery is possible the person can go on to live cancer free for many many many years. Instead he chose to ignore this fact and go the hippy way and try healthy eating and some other garbage that is ridiculous for such an incredibly deadly and usually untreatable form of cancer. So, eventually the cancer was inoperable and he died. The man who wrote Jobs’ biography said (I saw him in an interview, I never read the book) that Jobs regreted his decision not to do the operation. No shit. Sure, surgery has risks, he could have been the small percent of people who die on the table or from post surgeical complications, but he was a fool not to do the surgery. That type of treatment option is cut and dry.

Another example a friend of ours who was positive for the breast cancer gene and every woman in her family gets it, she was struggling with the idea of whether to get her breasts removed when I first met her, but had not made the decision. Within a year of meeting her she got breast cancer. She still struggled with whether to just do a lumpectomy or remove both of her breasts. She wound up removing them. Not doing any treatment would be ridiculous. Who would even fathom that in her situation? The doctor did not recommend anything further than the surgery. She didn’t go through any chemo, radiation, or other medications, just the surgery to remove her breasts and reconstruction.

gailcalled's avatar

As we have mentioned before on this site, Steve Jobs did not decide to not get surgery.

“The Apple chief executive, who died this month {Oct.2011} after a pancreatic tumour spread elsewhere, delayed having operations and chemotherapy for nine months after the disease was discovered in October 2003.” Source

JLeslie's avatar

He did decide to wait, and finally when he decided to do it, it was too late. That’s the way I understand it anyway.

Doesn’t matter, it doesn’t change that pancreatic cancer is typically a death sentence, because typically it’s found late and inoperable. On the rare chance it is operable, like in the case of Justice Ginsberg, you would have to be nuts not to do the surgery. Hopefully, hers never comes back. As far as I know it hasn’t, but I don’t keep up with her medical situation.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@Aster Thank you for the link to an article about one study. It’s been read twice. It pertains to research done in Australia and the US on cytotoxic chemotherapy as a treatment for 22 types of cancer. The success rate is minimal at 2.3% and 2.1% respectively.

There is no mention of a comparison to those with the same type of cancer who passed on medical treatment. It doesn’t mention what stage the cancer was in before it was diagnosed or when treatment was started. It targets a type of chemotherapy and not radiation and/or bone marrow transplant. There is no mention of surgery.

None of the treatments for cancer are pleasant. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. Research and experience has vastly improved in the fight against cancer over the years. If a person has a desire to prolong their life, then medical treatment is the right path to take.

jca's avatar

@Aster: If and when you learn about cancer, you’ll learn there are many different types of cells and types of cancer, and each grows at a different rate. The age you are when you get cancer may also have an effect on how quickly it grows and spreads, too. It’s probably almost impossible to make a blanket statement like “people with cancer will live longer if left untreated.”

I’d also not take the word of someone like Suzanne Somers who as you say “everything she prints about it she learned from interviewing doctors. In her books, she details all the questions she asks doctors and writes down what they say which then goes into her books.” If I had a positive diagnosis for any type of cancer, I’d not gamble my life on the writings of a celebrity-turned-lifestyle guru for my medical advice. I’d rather take what I learn from interviewing several oncologists from the best universities/medical centers with my pathology reports in their hands, rather than Suzy Somers.

SQUEEKY2's avatar

WANT A SHOCK??? I totally agree with what @jca just said^^^^

dabbler's avatar

Twenty years ago it seemed that getting a course of chemo was practically a death sentence.
These days there are treatments for several forms of cancer (e.g. breast cancer) that have high success rates and minimal lasting side-effects.

Yay, science !

cazzie's avatar

@dabbler there were reasons for that feeling that go beyond the fact that people were getting chemo. Firstly, detection methods were crap compared to what we have now, so people were often well beyond the recovery stage. Early detection is exactly what is what saves people. It is why my boyfriend recently had a melanoma removed from his shoulder. Thankfully is wasn’t the spreading sort, but it’s removal saved him disfigurement and pain in the future.

Trying to compare cancer types and their treatments is like telling someone to bring a nice salad to a pot luck. You might get a pasta salad or a green salad or a mushroom salad or a rice salad or a jello salad. Some will go quickly and some will linger and never be eaten, only to parish into the garbage bin or down the toilet. You can’t say ‘cancer’ and expect the same result.

jca's avatar

One of my close relatives had chemo a few years ago, and now they give the chemo medication with anti-nausea meds, and also anti-anxiety meds all in the IV. When the patient goes home, he or she is tired but hopefully not anxious and hopefully not hugging the bowl, puking. My relative had fatigue which becomes more prevalent as the weeks go on, and lost her hair and toenails, but did not have nausea or any suffering like that.

JLeslie's avatar

@jca Was it breast cancer? A lot of the breast cancer chemo causes hair loss and nausea, while other chemos for other cancers don’t. It varies depending in the drug.

I’m phobic about vomiting so when I was given a cancer drug for my ectopic pregnancy I asked them to give me anti-nausea drugs with it just in case. They did with no problem. They gave it to me concurrently, they didn’t wait to see if I became nauseas or not.

jca's avatar

@JLeslie: Yes, it was breast cancer.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Renter the 17 year old who tried to refuse chemo for her Hodgkins Lymphoma, even though a) she would most certainly die without it and B) the chemo has an 80% success rate. The state forced her to take it. Somewhere I read she said it wasn’t as bad as she feared and she is now cancer free.

JLeslie's avatar

^^ I’m glad to hear she is cancer free. You might remember on that Q I said tie the girl down and give her the drugs.

Most people are unaware when chemo drugs aren’t very traumatic, because we are unaware that person is going through treatment. Since almost all of us know a woman who went through breast cancer, I think most people have that picture in our minds, plus add that Komen has done a stellar job at promoting breast cancer awareness. Some treatments are worse some better.

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