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    Which Cancer Patients Turn to Alternative Medicine?


    That willingness to research is another characteristic associated with users of complementary therapies, the study shows. Also, surprisingly, is a level of trust in regular medicine. And while alternative medicine users were more likely to seek out supportive care, the researchers found through psychological testing that they were no more distressed or lacking in social support than other cancer patients.

    But Terri Ades, MS, RN, of the American Cancer Society, tells WebMD it's important to consider the source of this study. "There have been other studies looking at this type of information and they have shown the exact opposite of this," she says. "First of all, some of the alternative therapies in the U.S. are not the ones used in Austria. Also, patients in the U.S. may have a different perception of alternative therapies." Ades says the bottom line is that complementary and alternative therapies are more accepted elsewhere in the world.

    But that's not the case for Atlanta lung cancer patient Marilyn Sonenshine. Among the items in her alternative therapy arsenal: music therapy, massage therapy, yoga, visualization tapes, and herbs. "It helps to have a doctor who's open-minded," she says, "who doesn't have a really big ego."

    But she admits her doctor has little positive to say on the topic of herbs. "He won't say yea or he won't say nay. According to him they haven't been proven. But I know how I feel ... so I continue with the herbs." She also continues treatment with the conventional drug Herceptin and attends support groups. "You make good friends who know what you're going through, and you learn a lot."

    Ades says that's precisely what cancer patients need to do before embarking on any form of alternative therapy -- after, of course, talking with their doctors. "People should do their own research," she says. "Find out as much as they can before using the alternative therapy." And make sure the information is scientific and reliable.

    Cochran thinks that for some cancer patients, complementary or alternative therapies just aren't the right way to go. "There are people for whom a complementary approach will come to mind immediately," he says. "Others would think it's idiocy."

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