Alternative Therapies Popular With Breast Cancer Patients
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
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.
In an editorial accompanying the study, Harold J. Burstein, MD,
PhD, of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, summarizes the reasons
complementary and alternative medicine has enjoyed increasing popularity. The
list is long. He writes that an expanding health consciousness, a thriving
marketplace, the easing of regulations on dietary supplements, the burst of
information available through mass media and the Internet, a growing social
acceptance, and last, but not least, a disillusionment with conventional
medicine all play a part.
Doctors should consider consumer interest in complementary and
alternative medicine "a challenge to be better doctors ... an opportunity
to ... [focus] on the genuine needs of cancer patients that neither surgery nor
radiation nor chemotherapy can satisfy," Burstein writes. "[Seeking
alternative treatment is] often not about cancer treatment but about feeling
better and about having greater control over one's destiny."