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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Alternative Therapies Popular With Breast Cancer Patients

WebMD Health News

Aug. 17, 2000 - Visits to chiropractors and acupuncturists, and the use of vitamins, herbal remedies, and massage, are becoming increasingly important options to breast cancer patients, according to a new survey.

But the survey's researchers stress that such complementary and alternative medicine should remain just that, an option, and should not be used at the expense of conventional treatment. Apparently, many women in the survey felt the same way.

"Our interviews ... show that no one refused conventional therapy, and that the women are most likely to seek complementary therapies after they have concluded conventional therapy," lead researcher Heather Boon, PhD, tells WebMD. Boon is assistant professor in the department of health administration at the University of Toronto.

The study, which appears in the July issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology, found that two-thirds of the 411 breast cancer patients who answered a questionnaire used some sort of complementary or alternative medicine during or after their conventional treatment. The reasons most often cited were to assist the body's natural forces to heal, to boost the immune system, to enhance quality of life, to assist other treatments, and to relieve symptoms of their illness and treatment.

Only about half the patients said they discussed such treatment with their doctors, and researchers believe more communication between patients and physicians is needed. Alternative therapies can often be helpful, but some are at best ineffective, and at worst dangerous.

"Clinicians really need to start talking with patients and asking them in a nonjudgmental way about these therapies while they are taking routine histories," Boon says. "The biggest concern when it comes to alternative therapies is the possibility of negative interactions between conventional medications and oral alternative medicines. Physicians need to know when their patients are taking these so [they] can monitor [it]."

According to the survey, patients' choices of alternative therapies, in order of preference, were: vitamins and minerals, herbal remedies, green tea, diet, essiac (an herbal tea), body work, meditation, and shark cartilage.

In order of popularity, patients most often visited these types of alternative practitioners: chiropractors, herbalists, acupuncturists, naturopathic practitioners, reflexologists, touch therapists, homeopathic practitioners, physicians offering complementary and alternative therapies, faith healers, and others.

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