Cancer experts refuse to endorse traditional medicine

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 February, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 February, 2003, 12:00am

A cancer committee chaired by the health minister has rejected the inclusion of traditional Chinese medicine and other alternative therapies in disease treatment, saying there is not enough scientific evidence to justify it.

The stance seems to contradict calls by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for member states, including Hong Kong, to incorporate traditional and alternative medicine into health-care systems. The WHO's Traditional Medicine Strategy states that longer life expectancy in developed countries means people are more at risk of chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

'For many patients, alternative medicine appears to offer a gentler means of managing such diseases than does allopathic [conventional] medicine,' it says.

However, a spokeswoman for the Health, Welfare and Food Bureau said the top-level Cancer Co-ordinating Committee would not endorse the use of alternative medicine. The committee of cancer experts, academics and health professionals chaired by Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food Yeoh Eng-kiong, was set up to tackle Hong Kong's biggest killer.

'The committee does not normally deal with alternative therapies unless there is solid scientific evidence,' the spokeswoman said. 'The Cancer Co-ordinating Committee takes an evidence-based approach to examine scientific studies and data related to the prevention and control of cancer.'

Cancer accounted for one in three deaths in Hong Kong in 2000. Each year, about 20,000 people are diagnosed with cancer, and about 11,000 people die.

The WHO says traditional medicine has been integrated into the health systems of the mainland, North and South Korea and Vietnam. In Western countries, growing numbers rely on alternative medicine for preventive or palliative care: 75 per cent of the population in France has used such treatment at least once and 77 per cent of therapy clinics in Germany provide acupuncture.

The US spends US$2.7 billion (HK$21 billion) a year on complementary and alternative medicine.

Hong Kong has only recently begun to register its 7,500 traditional Chinese medicine practitioners, and plans have been announced to set up outpatient Chinese medicine clinics in three public hospitals to conduct research on herbal medicines. But the role of complementary medicine has not been addressed.

Microbiologist and priest Father Lancy Pereira said a holistic approach to treatment meant empowering patients to be their own healers, but agreed doctors should first attempt conventional approaches to tackle cancer.