Folklore or modern medicine?
Men choosing Obeah, herbalists over modern prostate cancer treatment
Consultant urologist Dr William Aiken said a study by the University Hospital of the West Indies that he was involved with showed that a large number of men diagnosed with prostate cancer started to explore various treatment options on their own accord. (Photo: Naphtali Junior)

MEDICAL professionals are deeply concerned that after many men are diagnosed with prostate cancer, they go underground in search of alternative, non-traditional treatment including that which is administered by Obeah men and women.

The issue was raised during a recent Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange forum held to discuss concerns and the host of activities to take place over Prostate Cancer Awareness Month being observed throughout September.

Dr William Aiken, a consultant urologist, said a study by the University Hospital of the West Indies that he was involved with, showed that a large number of men diagnosed with prostate cancer started to explore various treatment options on their own accord.

"You diagnose them with cancer today and they disappear and you can't find them. Six, seven, eight months later, they turn up with the cancer much further advanced. You ask them, 'where were you when we were trying to reach you?' They went to the Obeah man or the healer or they tried some natural products," Dr Aiken said.

He added that several men also fear that prostate cancer treatment will make them impotent.

"I have several patients like this right now. They go off on their own because of fear of an operation or fear that they might become impotent. They try their own natural remedies and they come back a year or two later with the Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) many-fold high and they miss the window of opportunity to be cured. I have seen that many times," he said.

Consultant haematologist and oncologist Dr Gilian Wharfe shared that many prostate cancer patients avoid the medical system and opt for the usage of herbs like guinea hen weed tea due to their lack of understanding of how science works. What concerns her is that some of them use herbs along with medication prescribed for them by their doctor. She advised against the practice.

"People have a lot of anecdotes and science cannot advance on anecdotes. A lot of our patients are taking a number of supplements and natural remedies along with what we give them. We need to be aware of what they are taking because sometimes there can be an interaction, and my take on it is try not to mix them because we don't know what it will do.

"If you have a break from the medication, go ahead and take the natural things if you want but not whilst you are on the medication I have prescribed. Unless I can find data that shows that the two don't interact, I usually tell them to try and stay away from it.

With regards to the impact of guinea hen weed tea on cancer cells, Dr Wharfe said it is being researched.

"We at the University Hospital of the West Indies are currently trying to do a study on guinea hen weed, which is very popular, but they are using it as a tea and the active ingredients do not dissolve in water. We have pulled the active ingredient and we are looking at a number of cancers. That is being run by Professor Horace Fletcher. Prostate cancer is one of them."

Dr Wharfe maintained that research is the way to go with the natural products.

"We need to study them rather than just say 'grandpa used to drink bissy everyday'," she remarked.

Consultant haemotologist and oncologist Dr Gillian Wharfe said where herbal medicine is concerned, if patients have a break from their medication they may take it, but it is not to be taken alongside prescribed medication. (Photo: Naphtali Junior)
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Jason Cross

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