Complementary and alternative therapies: Who uses them and why, their potential and their dangers

Hamburg, Germany: The use of complementary and alternative therapies (CAMs) is widespread amongst cancer patients, and their use appears to be increasing in Europe, Dr Gillian Bendelow told the 4th European Breast Cancer Conference today (Friday 19 March).

"Doctors need to be aware that this is the case," she said. "It is simply not realistic any more for them to think that they can ignore CAMs or that they can tell their patients not to use them. Patients appear to be turning to CAMs in increasing numbers, and doctors need to take account of what other therapies their patients are using, or may use in the future, when they are considering treatment options. Some CAMs can, as their name implies, complement conventional treatments, but others have the potential to interact dangerously with drug regimes, and both doctors and patients need to be aware of this."

In her review of CAMs, Dr Bendelow, a Reader in Medical Sociology, at the School of Social Sciences and Cultural Studies, University of Sussex, UK, said: "Results from various international research studies over the last decade show an enormous variation of CAM take-up in cancer patients ranging from less than ten per cent to more than 80 per cent. One of the biggest difficulties in obtaining findings lies in defining the range of treatments and therapies that the umbrella of CAM covers. Nevertheless, the use of CAM appears to be increasing across Europe: half of general practices in England now offer patients some access to complementary or alternative medicines, and CAM is well established in Germany, apparently in dialogue with conventional medicine.

"Studies of cancer patients and the general public show that those who seek CAMs tend to be better educated, of higher socio-economic status, female, and younger than those who do not. Typically, they are more health-conscious and utilise more mainstream medical services than non-CAM users. They may decide to use CAM without consult

Contact: Emma Mason
Federation of European Cancer Societies

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