Study: Are cancer patients’ hopes for chemo too high?

The following survey and study mirrors what I experienced as a patient back in 2004. My onocologist was not honest with me about my chances of survival with chemotherapy and this study validates what I’ve been saying for years. (Bold emphasis added by me)

(Reuters) – Oct 24, 2012 – At least two thirds of people with advanced cancer believed the chemotherapy they were receiving might cure them, even though the treatment was only being given to buy some time or make them comfortable, according to a U.S. survey.

Researchers reported in the New England Journal of Medicine that 69 percent of patients who were terminally ill with lung cancer, and 81 percent with fatal colorectal cancer, did not understand that their chemotherapy was not at all likely to eliminate their tumors.

Their expectations are way out of line with reality,” said lead researcher Deborah Schrag of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institution in Boston, speaking to Reuters Health.

Perhaps ironically, the patients who had the nicest things to say about their doctors’ ability to communicate with them were less likely to understand the purpose of their chemotherapy than patients who had a less-favorable opinion of their communication with their physicians.

“This is not about bad doctors and it’s not about unintelligent patients,” said Schrag. “This is a complex communication dynamic. It’s hard to talk to people and tell them we can’t cure your cancer.

She added that doctors find it uncomfortable to hammer home grim news and patients don’t want to believe it.

The findings are based on interviews with 1,193 patients, or their surrogates, who had been diagnosed with cancer that had spread. All were receiving chemotherapy.

“The fact that 20 to 30 percent of respondents recognized that chemotherapy was not at all likely to cure them shows that at least some patients were able to accept this reality and to acknowledge it to an interviewer,” the researchers wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The results are probably due, in varying degrees, to patients not being told their disease is incurable (with chemo treatments), patients not being told in a way that lets them understand, patients choosing not to believe the message, or patients being too optimistic, wrote Thomas Smith and Dan Longo of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

“If patients actually have unrealistic expectations of a cure from a therapy that is administered with palliative intent, we have a serious problem of miscommunication we need to address,” they added in a commentary with the report.

Many patients think they are going to beat the odds.

“What are you supposed to do, stand in front of someone with advance disease and argue with them? It’s not productive,” said Hossein Borghaei, an oncologist at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. “But I hear that all the time, especially from the younger patients.”

Schrag said it was a reminder to doctors to slow down and take some time to realize how hard the issue is.

“Recognize that this is not one conversation, but typically a series of conversations to see if they’ve understood it, and how they’re acting on it,” she added.

SOURCE: “Patients Expectations About Effects of Chemotherapy for Advance Cancer”, New England Journal of Medicine

(Reporting from New York by Gene Emery at Reuters Health; editing by Elaine Lies)

Comments from Chris:

Did you notice that at the beginning of the article it said “at least two thirds” but the quote from the researchers said “20-30 percent recognized…(chemo) was not likely to cure them”, which means that 70-80% think chemo WILL cure them. That’s 7-8 out of every cancer patients they surveyed. Wait a minute, that’s not two-thirds, it’s more like three-fourths!

Treatments to “buy more time” or “make you comfortable” are not intended to be curative or promote healing. This is called Pallative Care, and clearly most patients don’t know the difference.

Here’s a direct quote of the research paper’s conclusion:

“Many patients receiving chemotherapy for incurable cancers may not understand that chemotherapy is unlikely to be curative, which could compromise their ability to make informed treatment decisions that are consonant with their preferences. Physicians may be able to improve patients’ understanding, but this may come at the cost of patients’ satisfaction with them. (Funded by the National Cancer Institute and others.)”

Here’s the link to the research paper summary and conclusion:

And there is one more factor that this news story ignores:
Monetary Incentives.

Doctors may like to use the excuse that “it’s hard to tell patients we can’t cure cancer”, but the reality is that if oncologists actually told their patients, “Chemotherapy is not likely to cure you”, they risk losing most of their patients and most their income.

Read more posts about chemotherapy here

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This Post Has 28 Comments

  1. Janiris Villar

    Yes, I was told my son was going to be fine after chemo. It was not until after chemo failed that some of the truth came out. Then I started researching and confronted them with the truth and they admitted to it.

    1. Gary Briane Tuttle

      Similar to my experience. I decided to confront him about just one of the side effects I knew about that he hadn’t mentioned, and asked him “So what about Sterility?”

      He kept trying to dodge me for a while, and I must admit I did take some pleasure in picking apart his dodges and repeating the question because it made him squirm.

      He finally admitted that there was a 40-50% chance of permanent sterility in all males.

      I never even bothered to look up if that specific range was even accurate. My take away from that is that if I caught someone lying to me, I cannot take anything they say at face value.

      It’s just common sense, really.

  2. Beverly McClain

    Chris. My oncologist has never lied to me about my stage 4 breast cancer. I was told from the get-go that we’d start with hormonal drugs, which along with healthier living got me stable for 18 months, and after that it would be chemo for life–for as long as I can stand it or when the cancer figures a way around it. I’ve debated and debated what I’d say when the cancer advanced. It did just that about 3 weeks ago when I discovered my left clavicular lymph nodes exploded overnight. I’ve given in to the dark side because while I believe certain cancers can be cured with alternatives like yours was (I’m so envious), this thing was taking off exponentially. I have a 15-year-old daughter and I want to be here for her as long as I can. If palliative chemo keeps me alive then I’m going to do it. However, I’m open to any thoughts on how to make it less toxic and work better. I’m on Abraxane, though couldn’t get my 2nd infusion today because of Hurricane Sandy (I’m in NYC). I will not be ashamed of my choice. It was very hard for me to make but I simply had to do it and am trying to embrace it and do positive things at the same time. Please say prayers for me. Bev.

    1. Gary Briane Tuttle

      Beverly, you most likely still have other options.

      You would first have to believe that you do, and then start looking for them. They are out there.

    2. Patrick

      Beverly, I’d love to get you in touch with my friend. She cured herself of Stage 4 breast cancer naturally without chemo / radiation / surgery. I used the same protocols to heal my rectal cancer with diet, nutritional supplements, and some detox therapies. It’s real and what Chris is talking about is right on! Feel free to reach out to me anytime. Patrick

      1. Laura

        My husband was diagnosed with stage 4 stomach cancer earlier this year. He has had one round of chemotherapy which initially worked to shrink everything; then when he could no longer withstand one half of the cocktail (though he did surprisingly well with the treatment all along), things started reversing. He is now on a break from chemotherapy but he is not feeling great. I am looking into juicing and detoxing with vegetable juicing, reading a book by Cherie Calbom. If you have time, please, please share your resources with me. Thank you. Laura

      2. Gina

        Hi patrick i know the posted am responding to is old but i would like some info on your friend that cured her stage 4 cancer. 2nd battle with cancer

  3. Gary Briane Tuttle

    They absolutely lied to me. They repeatedly told me “some hair loss and nausea” when I (repeatedly) asked about the possible side effects of the treatment they were proposing.

    Some of the listed side effects of the 5 drug cocktail they proposed:

    “Secondary Cancers”

    There are more, and I could go on to really analyze even just the 3 I have listed above, but the mere *possibility* that a dr might omit negative side effects when directly asked should give everyone and anyone enough motivation to research their treatment options themselves….and I have a lot of work to get back to, in the effort to heal my life.

    1. Gary Briane Tuttle

      oh yeah, they also said “but you are young, you will tolerate it well.”

      I kept it to myself at the time, but my mental reply was, “Actually, Dr Fear Tactic Lying by Omission, I do not tolerate it in the least! ”

      Well, there were a few swear words in there, too….

    2. Milli

      Hi my mum has just finished chemo and radiothearapy (after a long think weather to do it or not) and now has been given the 5year drug. Does anyone has any opinions on this? I feel I want her to stop taking it but I don’t have the knowledge to tell her why.

      she has turned vegan, juices, regularly has chris’ anti cancer salad and only touches organic. But I feel like drug is going to increase her chances of it coming back!?

  4. brenda

    Chris, as you know, its not just chemo that people are being lied to about, but radiation as well. You and I have spoken, so you know where I am; for a stage 2 cervical cancer AFTER a radical hysterectomy they still want me to do further treatment. There is, at this time ABSOLUTELY no evidence I need further “preventative” care.

    I plan to INSIST (after my HCG) test comes back, that they show me PROOF I need radiation, and what the side effects of 8 weeks nonstop radiation really are. They aren’t pretty.

    And my doctor may been honest, but I was just told “its not up to him,” meaning how much treatment I “need,” by his NURSE who has the authority to recommend 8 weeks to his initial judgement I may need 4. What????? It’s scarier than cancer!

    Keep up the great work….prayers for everyone here fighting.. Beverly, no judgement here either. No matter what you choose I pray you find a way to be as successful as possible…And Patrick and Gary are right, too, at least pursue ALL options that you can.

    God Bless and keep us all…

    1. Rob Collett

      I look forward to the day when mainstream medicine is the best combination of both sides to effect maximum health. That day will come. Radiation will kill cells….so will chemo…the trouble with it is it’s a sledge hammer on the body…so one has to have a super immune system to repair the damage from the treatment as well as the syndrome. Cancer cells find a way to get stronger and appear elsewhere after both -and more resistant than before. So, both are treating the outward signs not the causal factors. I was told that even Stage 111A lung cancer that the ‘team’ could guarantee me a ‘Cure’ I asked repeatedly and they said the same thing..a cure. Of course they said “The percent success is somewhere between 10% and 20% approximately…and with that we can’t guarantee it won’t resurface somewhere else” To me, they know that 1 in 10 or even 1 in 5 as a successful ‘cure’ isn’t any cure at all. That would be 100% or close. The problem with anecdotal testimony from the naturalist side is it’s hard to get accurate numbers….but I see and hear and read numbers like 70%, 80%, 90% and for many more survival years than what the allopathic hospital ‘teams’ can say. I have no choice but to learn to take responsibility for my own life, health and longevity…eat as much clean raw as I can, fruit smoothies, additions of protocols that are promised effective by people who have done them and are still around to guide others, remove negativity all I can….and the stress that that puts on me (and those around me as well) and faith. I can’t suggest what faith….just that faith is powerful and not any placebo effect. I think that is a much misguided concept. Faith is the vehicle and love is the power. When both flow through us -and we are diligent and responsible for our body health…we flourish.

  5. Eileen

    I am sure it must be so hard, when in the position of having cancer to make a decision whether or not to have chemo, as it does give some people hope, false hope maybe.I do not have cancer but i do believe people should seek natural ways to become healthy and to try to beat it in healthy ways and not with Chemo. Bravo to Chris for starting this site. Chemo is a toxin, a poison which does make you very ill unfortunately, I think in a few years we will look back on this treatment as Barbaric and inhumane like some of the medical practices performed in the late 19th Century

  6. Rob Collett

    Beverly…I totally understand what you’re feeling. I’m stage III small cell lung. It’s one thing to hear hundreds of testimonials…it’s another to have your current news and think you can be one of that group. I get it 100%, I was given 6 months from time of discovery,give or take,(PET scan at 3 months into that time confirmed cells in the lymph nearby, if I didn’t follow the rad/chemo exactly and together I was signing my termination papers. I had already been following not only Chris (who I find is a friend of a family member in Georgia -I’m in Ontario, Canada)-but researched 16 hrs/day online and in person with cancer survivors. I made the decision to take a shot gun approach – I planted my first ever garden 150 feet X 45 ft., late end of June. I (and my wife and solid partner) completely changed diet. A huge salad every night for dinner, as much alkaline veggies as possible, wild fish 5 days/wk and organic chicken the other 2. I now put coconut sugar in my morning coffee. No red meat or anything ‘packaged’ from the grocery store. I thought that would be impossible, for me. It actually is easy. I have been taking a native herb mix detox 3X/day max dosage – (Essiac)Bitter Almond (B-17 Laetrile) Flax oil ( Johanna Budvig protocol with 1% cottage cheese 3X / day.) I do feel better than I have for 20 years…I have been told by those that know me that they find it difficult to believe I have the syndrome. I call it the small c. My gut tells me I’m winning, but without another PET scan I just don’t have that info yet. I often wonder what will be my reaction if after all this positiveness and feeling so well -I get the same heads up that you have just got. I will say that whatever is my outcome I absolutely know I’m on the right track…that all thse people care not only about their own selves and health -but they genuinely are in this with each other -and me -and you, as well. I know there is more I can do. There is for you as well. There are so many things that will switch that switch off in those cells – even revert them back to ‘normal’ cells. We just have to find the right mix that works for each of us individually. It’s there. It’s real and you will find it if you just keep on -face into the wind and decide “I am moving beyond this” I believe that emotion and will is as important as any piece of the puzzle. The puzzle is no puzzle really…we just have to see the right pieces work for us personally. All that you read is right and good and correct. If one,two,three protocols aren’t working there are some that will wortk for you directly. I know it doesn’t feel like it to you right now….but please love yourself enough to begin again. Tomorrow…maybe just cruise for today. One aspect you may or may not know about that ha huge promise and many hundreds of people claim total healing of advanced tumors is Phoenix Tears. I am about to embark on that pathway myself. There are many, many natural plants on this earth that can have a switch off effect. We just need to find the particular one that will work for you. It’s there. Please try to believe that…because I believe it is for everyone. There is plenty of time for ‘giving in’ after we have passed…that’s not now, I don’t think, for you. All these people know what is in your heart….they are part of you because they are defeating the very thing that you are waging. You will to -if you believe you will and try again as many paths as it takes. We are never closer to the morning sunrise as when we feel the night dark will never end -feeling that discouragement right now -it’s a sign that the sun will soon rise for you. This too will pass Beverly. Reach out…begin a new protocol…share and talk and commune. You are so far from ‘alone’ it’s unbelievable. Believe it. I, myself, don’t know exactly what will work for me…one, some or all. I don’t care really. I’ll keep on keeping on and try everything I feel is valid -with absolute attention and stick-to-it-edness (is that even a word phrase? lol) – Beverly, the winds are blowing here too….they have passed strongly over NY. This too will pass and the sun will again shine on your face and make you smile. Good journey. I will be thinking good thoughts your way in the coming weeks. Just do it. -Warmest regards, Rob xo

    P.S. – I still enjoy red wine, the odd scotch with 1 ice cube and even the odd beer. For me, life is as good as it has ever been. I was one of those ‘terrible’ smokers too…all my life.( I feel the frowns, lol) I couldn’t quit no matter how hard I tried, so I have switched to electronic vaporized synthetic ones…as a stepping stone. I am 60 3/4 now….was 60 exactly when I found this challenge appear. My focus now is -believe it or not – 120 yrs. I intend to do my absolute best to reach that and Then decide whether I want an extension beyond that. That’s My story Beverly -and I’m stickin’ to it. Beverly?…just “give ‘er” -all you’ve got to give. It’s worth it. You know it is.

  7. brenda

    Rob, that was an amazing testimony, may I repost if, sans names, except yours?

  8. Billie Coco-Travelstead

    Chris, I love your site and comments. Rob, if I didn’t have my faith ( I shutter to think) just a few minutes ago before reading this flow of comments of passion and expressions for love of life, I was thinking how much my Father loves me, like no other person on this earth could, or that I felt. Never in my life have I been loved as much even though I am alone, I am not alone. He is with me always. I had breast cancer and surgery only in 96. I left my second husband that year (most of you recognize the emotional connection to cancer-immunity) and remarried in 2000, to a most amazing man! It was the first time I felt sincere love from a partner (w the exceptions of my daughters). My husband had had cancer too so we both knew our time together was special. Unfortunately he developed more cancer and in 03 passed away, peacefully in the arms of our Father. This however threw me into a pit of depression which lasted way to long. In 09 I was rediagnosed w mets to the bones. With much inbetween and unfortunately did have radiation, (never again) my life is rich with love and I am guided daily by OUR Father. He has given me insight to many things we have here on earth to help us heal and thrive. I don’t share any of this for pity, but to encourage you to seek out all the natural means we have a available to us an to sites like this that share and bring truth to all of us. Whatever God has in store for me, I am His- to do whatever it is. AND by the way my boldness about my faith as Christ is Lord- that just happened prior to my 09 diagnosis. So He does heal and loves us beyond our imagination. Stay as close to nature as possible!!!

    1. chrisbeatcancer

      Such a sweet and wonderful comment. Thank you Billie. I couldn’t agree more!

  9. L D

    A family member went to Johns Hopkins with bone, brain, and lung cancer. Too bad she wasn’t introduced to Dr.Thomas Smith quoted in your article. She was never told her care was to be merely palliative.

    Needless to say, your blog has been an inspiration and a Godsend! She especially enjoyed your blog about Fluoride. Unfortunately, she was not much of a researcher and felt pressured by family and oncologists to take conventional treatment.

    She was not warned that Radiation treatments would destroy her ability to think, giving her what she called ‘Rad Brain.’ Once the chemo started, her life quickly began to deteriorate. Even as she was going in and out of the ICU they were giving her “maintenance doses” of chemo. Is this standard practice?

    One thing I have learned is the quality of care is not always commensurate with how much money is spent or the quality of insurance one has. There is no replacement for open honest dialogue. She undoubtably would be alive today if her doctors had enabled her to make an informed choice for quality of life.

    Sometimes I think palliative oncology, with all the money taken from the terminally ill, should repay patients with more interest in their hospice care and honesty about their eminent deaths. This would be difficult at first for oncologists, but telling the truth would get easier and easier over time.

    Unfortunately we’re up against the sentiment expressed in this Upton Sinclair quote, “It’s hard to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding.”

  10. Judith

    The biggest problem with this scenario is that patients than don’t seek out alternatives that could actually do them far more good than the chemo they are being given. I note the profound irony that proponents of mainstream medicine accuse alternative practitioners of offering “false hope” to cancer patients while this study suggests that doctors are guilty of the practice.

  11. Mike

    Doc: This chemo could extend your life by 2 years.
    Patient: Could it cure my cancer.
    Doc: It is very unlikely it will cure your cancer.
    Patient: But it is possible, right?
    Doc: Yes its possible but….
    Patient: Thanks, do everything you can to keep me alive.

    One of the reasons for the outcome of this study is that patients do not want to acknowledge they are going to die from cancer. They want to live.

    This is why they do Chemo. This is also why quacks selling miracle cures are able to make a living.

  12. Catherine Livingston

    Like Beverly, my oncologist told me I would die from stage 4 breast cancer when I was diagnosed a year ago with spread to bones, liver, and lungs. I have always believed in natural healing and had avoided processed foods prior to diagnosis, so this came as a shock. I am still young (46). Now, I know that stress from work plus eating too much sugar and taking 6 months of antibiotics for a positive TB test, probably contributed to the development of this cancer. I immediately started juicing several times a day and went 100% vegan and raw when diagnosed. I also took a hormone blocker (Tamoxifin). The cancer went into partial remission and stayed there for 7 months. I went on a month and a half juice cleanse and the cancer started to grow and spread in the lungs and bones. I gave it some time, but it continued to grow over 3 months so I conceded to undergoing low dose chemo for 3 months. (Paclitaxol). I have been fasting on water 2 days a week (day before and day of chemo)- to slow down healthy cells and weaken the cancer cells. I have completed 2 months of chemo and have yet to experience side effects other than partial hair loss. My white and red blood cell counts are holding steady. People keep commenting that I am “the picture of health”, and my energy level is good. I guess the body can handle some toxicity. I was able to get very healthy prior to starting this chemo. Multiple studies show that fasting with chemotherapy reduces side effects and increases tumor shrinkage 40X. Mice lived 300 days longer who had fasted vs. chemo on it’s own. The mice who fasted on water without chemo had equal results to chemo on it’s own without the damaging side effects. I plan to use fasting with the raw vegan diet as my main plan of attack when I finish this chemo regime in a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, I am grateful that I am still alive and healthy after being diagnosed with advanced cancer one year ago.

    1. Gina

      Hi Catherine Livingston , just wanted to see if you can gives us an updated on self healing

    2. Greg Beckham

      Hi Catherine, glad you’re doing good and glad you mentioned the fasting. I’d read a bit on it and it seems very logical. Best wishes!

  13. Kathy Malone

    Hello Chris, I love your website, I have a friend that has stage III plus ? that’s what the dr said, well, he was told last April after a colonoscopy that he had a cancerous polip which they took out and my friend started the ph diet for a few weeks, not sure he did it all the way if you know what I mean, long story short after a couple of months of juicing and essiac tea and 4 apricot seeds a day but occasional junk food, his cancer is now in the lymph nodes so they want to start him with a chemo pill and radiation, he wanted to do everything chemo, rad and raw vegan and the Dr told him NO green juices because he will get to much diarrhea so what he should do? I saw your interview that chemo makes people susceptible to bacteria from the greens and also he was going to the sauna and Dr said NO Sauna either, please let me now how can help him? can he do the chemo pill and radiation and the ph green diet?

  14. hsnmp

    Catherine Livingston What is “fasting on water 2 days a week” means. My husband diagnosis with stage 4 tonsil cancers and he will be staring his Red/Chemo soon and I would like to know what kind of food would be best?

  15. Tom


    I think this site is a big help to many people but have you collected andy statistics on the amount of people that were able to cure the disease naturally without chemo?

    Thank you,

  16. Amy M

    Chris, last Friday was my brother’s funeral. Exactly one week ago today he lost his battle with colon cancer. He was 46 years old. He was diagnosed last October. He seemed to be doing fine. He went back to work at the beginning of March, but towards the end of the month he was admitted into the hospital for severe abdominal pain. About a week later he was discharge home, but had had a series of hospital visits over and over again. In the second week of June my brother was transported to another hospital and admitted into the critical care unit. I saw him being wheeled out to have a CT scan and he was beginning to look a bit yellow. His liver was failing. It was time for hospice. I visited him a couple of days later at the hospice. I wasn’t prepared for what I was about to see as I entered that room. As I entered the room, I didn’t see my handsome brother anymore. I saw a skeleton whose skin was a yellow/green neon type of color. He was glowing! I don’t know how I held myself up quite honestly. I walked up to that bed and he knew that it was me. He sit up and adjusted himself in the bed as if he was trying to show me that he was okay. He didn’t want his little sister to see him that way. I rubbed his calf to comfort him and prayed. My heart was broken. That was the last time I saw my brother alive. For about 8 months my brother did chemo and radiation. He had surgery first to remover the tumor from his colon. From what I heard it was the size of a football. He had lesions on his one of his lungs, liver, and spine. In the end it spread from the liver to his entire abdominal cavity. Chemo? Why bother if it is advanced cancer? I am pro-natural therapy. I have decided that if I get cancer, I am going the natural route. I don’t want to go through what my brother went through. I made him a promise to take care of myself.

  17. Greg Beckham

    It is important to note the article is referencing stage 4 cancer by which the medical community considers incurable at that point. All treatments are considered palliative for most all rather than curative once they venture from the original site and become metastatic. For stages <4, treatments could be considered curative, getting the disease in remission, and hoping to remain NED (no evidence of disease). I do think that requires a healthy immune system that was once overwhelmed and I do think doctors should be as painful as it may seem, to give proper facts so they can make their own decisions about there own healthcare and not lead anyone on.

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