CAM for cancer on the up and up

Breast cancer patients are the most enthusiastic users of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) compared to people with other types of cancer, an Australian study shows.

While the use of CAM alongside conventional treatments is increasingly popular among all cancer patients, those with breast cancer are particularly partial to supplementing their diet with vitamins, minerals and herbs.

Physical, spiritual and mind/body therapies have also been readily embraced by this group.

The study of 639 patients found CAM is favoured by 92% of breast cancer, 85% of lung cancer patients, 84% of prostate cancer patients and 71% of skin cancer patients.  Among “other” cancer patients, 76% were regular users.

Most reported CAM simply improved their quality of life rather than expecting it to have curative properties.

However, patients given a poor prognosis were significantly more likely to use spiritual practices and psychological therapies, the NSW study authors found.

Writing in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Oncology, they said many patients were reluctant to discuss their medicinal preferences with their oncologist, “which may be detrimental to their overall clinical care”.

“CAM may interfere with standard treatments [but it] may [also] fill a psychological need for many patients, which has been linked to the improvement in optimism and outlook, and in turn this many impact on long-term recovery,” they wrote.

Further exploration of the attitudes of both patients and oncologists regarding the use of CAM was needed, they concluded.