Being curious about most literature dealing with cancer, I picked up a copy of a 36-page Guide to Chemotherapy at my oncologist’s office, since “chemo” is a process through which I passed recently, with such great success. It’s published by the Health Monitor Network, whose lawyers are careful to state that the publication
…is not intended to provide advice on personal medical matters, or to substitute for consultation with a physician.
I’ve been concerned with the fact that most literature I’ve picked up dealing with chemotherapy side-effects manage to drop in polite references to acupuncture, suggesting that patients ask their doctors whether this centuries-old nonsense might help them. This is obviously in “PC” deference to those who might also want to embrace useless woo-woo treatments. But though the first 27 pages of the Guide were free of woo-woo, pages 28 to 32 were “20 tips for thriving during treatment,” and suggestion #15 was “Try something new,” and related that the Montefiore Einstein Center for Cancer Care in New York City encourages their patients to
…try activities such as crocheting, scrapbooking, tai chi, Reiki, and even a drum circle.
Crocheting and scrapbook work fails to captivate me, tai chi can be interesting and probably therapeutic, and I’ll pass up the drum circle, being bereft of any sense of rhythm, but I recognize another form of nonsense when I see it. Now, “reiki” is a relatively new form of quackery, only having been dreamed up in 1922. It claims to use something called “palm healing,” and practitioners apparently believe that they’re “transferring universal energy” (reiki) in the form of “ki” through the process of waving their hands and thereby bringing about “self-healing and a state of equilibrium.” It’s a sort of dance with hand motions. The Westernized version uses systematized gestures, while the original, even nuttier form, “relies on an intuitive sense for proper hand patterns.” Sure.
A 2008 systematic scientific review of randomized clinical trials of reiki concluded that
…the evidence is insufficient to suggest that reiki is an effective treatment for any condition. The concept of ki underlying Reiki is speculative and there is no scientific evidence that it exists.
Both the American Cancer Society [ACS] and the National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine [NCCAM] have also investigated this notion, and found that there exists no clinical or scientific evidence supporting claims that reiki is effective in the treatment of any illness, or that it has any benefits beyond possible placebo effects. Though proper placebo trials of reiki are complicated by design difficulties due to “blinding” requirements, trials conducted with adequate placebo or sham controls have shown no difference between the procedure-treated and the control groups. Even a 2009 review in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that
…the serious methodological and reporting limitations of limited existing Reiki studies preclude a definitive conclusion on its effectiveness.
The ACS notes that the research surrounding Reiki has been poorly conducted, and states:
Available scientific evidence at this time does not support claims that Reiki can help treat cancer or any other illness*. More study may help determine to what extent, if at all, it can improve a patient's sense of well-being. [*my italics]
In other words, reiki does not work. It’s a sham, a silly song-and-dance routine that medical doctors like Mehmet Oz – he of The Doctor Oz Show, a TV program given to him by Oprah Winfrey – readily accept. However, Dr. Oz may be swayed by the fact that his wife is a “reiki master,” and he regularly offers his viewers a variety of woo-woo ideas in spite of the hard fact that he’s a highly-ranked cardiac surgeon and very respected in that line of work.
I found my way through the six months of infusions of my chemo session by relating to other patients who were going through the same duress and talking them through difficult times and situations, a procedure that I think helped me as much as it did them. I submitted to the systematic poisoning to a point just short of checking out, but had the great satisfaction of knowing that the cancer cells “went” while I didn’t, which is the desired result. Reiki, acupuncture, and other forms of quackery were not involved, and for this “Guide” and the Healthmonitor to suggest their embrace, is irresponsible, in my view. Cancer can be beaten, but quackery only creates false security and an expensive “alternative” to reality…