| Advertising to, and Treating, Patients with Cancer
(October 30, 2015) The College of Naturopaths of Ontario has received inquires about naturopathic doctors who are treating cancer and advertising as such. In light of this, the College is issuing this advisory to members of the profession regarding treating patients with cancer.
Cancer diagnosis and treatment
Naturopathic doctors (NDs) do not have access to:
- the diagnostic tools that are necessary to derive a diagnosis of cancer in a patient (a confirmed diagnosis requires laboratory and radiological testing not available to the profession); or
- the treatments, procedures and medications necessary to treat cancer.
Therefore, both the diagnosis and treatment of cancer does not fall within the scope of practice of the profession.
Under the College’s regulations, a ND who suspects that a patient may have cancer is required to refer the patient to other regulated health professionals (e.g. medical doctors) who can make the diagnosis and provide cancer treatment.
Adjunctive treatments and treating other conditions
Patients can benefit from naturopathic treatments for cancer symptom management and to alleviate the impact of cancer treatments on the body. NDs are able to provide these adjunctive treatments to patients as well as treat other conditions not necessarily related to the patient’s cancer.
NDs must always ensure that they have obtained informed consent of the patient when providing treatment. Given the nature of cancer and the vulnerability of cancer patients, naturopaths should distinguish between treatment for cure and treatment of disease symptoms, taking care not to overstate the potential benefit of treatment.
In providing adjunctive or other treatments to patients with cancer, it is also important to work in collaboration with the primary treating physician, with the consent of the patient. These are essential elements to support patient safety, comfort and quality of care.
Patients who refuse allopathic cancer care
Some patients may decline to treat their cancer through the allopathic treatment process. Provided their primary treating physician has properly informed them of the risks, this is a choice for patients to make.
Where a patient has declined allopathic care, a ND can continue to provide overall care. NDs should document the patient’s decision in the patient record, being clear about what naturopathic treatment can accomplish. NDs must also refer any patient questions about allopathic cancer treatment to a physician.
Patients are always free to change their minds about what treatments they wish to pursue. Naturopaths should encourage patients to continue speaking to their physicians.
Proper use of titles
The Professional Misconduct Regulation carries two important provisions relating to the use of title. Under the Regulation, it is professional misconduct to inappropriately use a term, title or designation:
- in respect of a member’s practice; or
- indicating or implying a specialization in the profession.
While many NDs focus their practice in specific areas of interest, such as cancer, it is inappropriate to use a title other than naturopath or naturopathic doctor.
That would include, for example, a title such as “Naturopathic Oncologist”, or using the acronym FABNO in conjunction with the member’s ND title (FABNO is Fellow of the American Board of Naturopathic Oncology). The College views such titles as implying a specialization in the profession, which is not permitted.
ND advertisements must be accurate, true, verifiable, not misleading, professional, comprehensible by the audience, and in good taste. They must:
- be consistent with the College standards of practice for restricted titles when referring to professional credentials;
- not refer to the cure of symptoms or diseases or appeal to the public’s fears; and
- refer only to professional services within the scope of practice of the profession.
Members should avoid any advertisements, including the use of improper titles in advertisements, that present naturopathic treatment in place of other cancer treatments, or as a cure for cancer. The College may see such advertising as being non-compliant with the Professional Misconduct Regulation and the Standard of Practice on Advertising.
In contrast, an advertisement that speaks to providing supportive or adjunctive care for cancer patients may, in appropriate circumstances, be acceptable.
Members interest in learning more are encouraged to visit the College’s website and download the following materials from the Resources section:
- Professional Misconduct Regulation
- General Regulation
- Standard of Practice on Scope of Practice
- Standard of Practice on Advertising
- Standard of Practice on Consent
- Advertising Guideline
- Informed Consent Guideline
- Code of Ethics.
Members who have questions are invited to contact:
Dr. Mary-Ellen McKenna, ND (Inactive)
Regulatory Education Specialist