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Alternative Therapies Popular With Breast Cancer Patients


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."

The Ontario study further documents "the communication gap that separates patient practices from physician awareness," Burstein adds. "Oncologists might be surprised to find just how common [the use of alternative therapy] is, because we tend to not ask about it."

Anne Wallace, MD, a surgical oncologist and director of the Breast Care Unit at the University of California, San Diego, agrees.

"I'd encourage patients to discuss these things with their doctors and feel comfortable in doing so," she tells WebMD. "If your doctor gives you a funny look when you mention [alternative therapies], maybe it's not because he or she disapproves of what you're doing, but because he or she is learning about these things, too. In the next decade, we will probably learn a lot about complementary and alternative medicine."

Wallace also advises patients seeking alternative therapies to go to reputable health centers and practitioners, and to remember that many herbs are actually drugs that can interact with other medications.

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