Alternative and Complementary Therapies: Popular but Potentially Dangerous?
"I think this is great information," says Mary Richardson, MD,
director of the University of Texas Center for Alternative Medicine Research in
Cancer in Houston. "I am thrilled to see this, for physicians and patients.
These kinds of surveys get on the radar screen of people." Richardson was
not involved in this study but reviewed it for WebMD. She says that a recent
survey she and her colleagues undertook also found a high rate of complementary
and alternative medicine use among cancer patients, particularly women and
people with higher levels of education. In addition to these therapies, many
patients also prayed.
Richardson agrees that physicians should more routinely delve deeper to find
out which other products or supplements their patients might be taking. But
Richardson stops short of saying that all supplements would counteract the
effects of chemotherapy or radiation. "The bottom line is we need to
conduct a great deal of research to answer these questions," she says.
In the survey, a majority of people also reported that they believed they
were being helped by the supplements or practices. And it is easy to understand
their motivation, Richardson says.
"People want to do everything they can to maximize their options,
especially [terminal] patients who have no options," she says. "Just
the fact of having some sense of control over your life and feeling like you
are doing something" can be their motivation. "People have become very
proactive, and there is information flying all over the place."
She suggests that if people are going to consult alternative medicine
practitioners, they inform their primary physician and should even ask the two
to consult with one another about the person's progress.
- In a cancer specialists' survey, more than half of the female patients used
nutritional supplements and other alternative therapies in addition to their
standard treatment. Most of these patients did not tell their doctors.
- Cancer patients often turn to alternative therapies for help, but doctors
note these extra treatments should not be used if a patient is receiving
chemotherapy or radiation without consulting them first.
- Doctors need to know about all the therapies their patients are receiving.
Doctors and patients should discuss the subject and even include the
alternative therapists in the conversations