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Alternative cancer therapies: when does an anecdote become a cure?

How many oncologists does it take to change a light bulb, or what constitutes a cancer 'cure'? The medical establishment recently criticized Prince Charles for advocating some alternative remedies, such as the Gerson diet. Most of these therapies were supported merely by 'anecdotal' evidence, they said. In other words most of us know someone who has been helped by an alternative therapy, but this doesn't add up to scientific evidence of a global cure for cancer.

The UK's one and only professor of complementary therapy, Edzard Ernst, entered the debate this week and, not surprisingly, he's come down forcibly on the side of conventional medicine. But then he usually does.

Ernst says that most alternative cancer therapies promoted on the Web are dangerous, unscientific and just don't work, or not often and not for most people.

So we're back to anecdotal evidence, and the percentage that we need in order to define any therapy as a cure. It's probably not unreasonable to assume that therapies that have anecdotal evidence of success might have a 2 to 3 per cent 'cure rate'. Funnily enough, that's the cure rate of chemotherapy for some cancers, according to the Department of Health.

No doubt we'll be hearing the legions decrying chemotherapy any moment now....

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