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

ing practitioners and it is likely that higher estimates of the numbers of users reflect the growing availability of over-the-counter and internet remedies."

Given the difficulties of categorising CAMs and the lack of research, Dr Bendelow suggested that accurate assessment of the take-up of CAMs in breast cancer, particularly in Europe, was impossible to ascertain but that trends could be predicted. "The few studies I have been able to find confirm higher rates of CAM usage among breast cancer patients in Europe: between 50-70 per cent in England and a Swedish study indicating 85 cent take-up. A 2003 study in Muenster, Germany, interviewed 203 women with breast cancer who had undergone surgery as first therapy; of these, 78 per cent used some form of CAM (most common were vitamin preparations 67 per cent, mistletoe therapy 59 per cent, and mineral preparations 33 per cent) and 70 per cent used a combination of two or more therapies."

There were a variety of reasons why women with breast cancer chose to use CAMs. These included improving the women's quality of life, giving them more control and greater responsibility for their care, and the need to explore all possibilities. More research was needed to understand how patients and practitioners made decisions about CAM usage in breast cancer. However, patients and researchers needed to be clear about the distinction between complementary and alternative therapies.

"Alternative therapies typically are promoted for use instead of mainstream treatment, which may be more controversial and especially problematic in oncology, when delayed treatment can diminish the possibility of remission and cure. Moreover, interventions sold as literal alternatives to chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation therapy may be biologically active, potentially harmful, and extremely costly. However, complementary therapies are used as adjuncts to mainstream cancer care. They include supportive measures that contro

Contact: Emma Mason
Federation of European Cancer Societies

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