A 61-year-old man has an end-stage metastatic colon cancer. Saturday, he called the Deseret News/IHC Health Hotline to see if there are alternative treatments he hasn't even considered to supplement his chemotherapy regime.
Alternative treatments can offer both good and bad, according to Dr. Anna Beck and Dr. Jennifer Fischbach, the oncologists who fielded the calls."A lot of people take your money and leave you with nothing to show for it," said Beck, noting that the caller is fortunate he is responding to treatment.
She suggested he visit the Cancer Wellness Center, 59 S. 1100 East, in Salt Lake City. The house offers special support groups for cancer patients, recreation, moral support, education and other services, at no charge to the patient.
"If you start looking for alternative therapies, everyone will step up to the plate," Beck said. "Whether or not you'll have anything to show for it. . . . "
Among other benefits, she told the man the house offers alternatives "that would be reasonable to try in conjunction with chemotherapy."
The doctors fielded calls from Salt Lake City, Orem, Providence, Taylorsville, Kearns, West Valley City, Price, Bountiful, Tooele, Sandy and Nephi.
Another caller said her husband is in hospice with metastatic cancer. She simply wanted to know what she can expect as his condition deteriorates.
The two doctors talked to more than two dozen people during the two-hour hotline segment. Most of the callers had cancer themselves, a few wanted information for loved ones who have cancer. And a couple had general health questions, including how to control diabetes.
In several cases, the doctors offered encouragement to patients who have had recurrent cancers. While there's little chance of a complete cure with recurrent cancers, they emphasized that there are great treatment options and a lot that can be done both to arrest the disease's progress and to allay associated suffering.
They also answered questions about Tamoxifen, a drug that has for years been used to treat breast cancer but recently made the news with release of a study showing it also appears to prevent breast cancer in people who are at high-risk for the disease.
"The patients are very well informed," observed Fischbach of the calls she took. "They know a lot about their illness."
Fischbach and Beck said there is a vast amount of information available about cancer and its treatment. But they also add a caution.
While the Internet is a great source of information, "there's a lot of bad stuff on the Internet," Beck said. "If I were researching an illness, I would stick with the better-known, more reputable (Web) sites."
Both women have had patients suggest possible treatment options. And sometimes the suggestions are very good, they said. But treatment for an individual involves a lot of factors, from the specific illness to the patient's personal situation. So what may be a viable treatment for one patient might not be a good choice for someone else with the disease.
They also emphasized that people who have had cancer in the past need to pay attention and see that they get proper follow-up screening to see that the disease doesn't recur or to spot it immediately if it does. And it never hurts to get a second opinion, they said.
The Healthcare Hotline is a free public service of the Deseret News and Intermountain Health Care. On the second Saturday of each month, callers can reach specialists to ask questions. The subject differs from month to month.