Third of European cancer patients use complementary and alternative therapies

More than a third of cancer patients in Europe make use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), according to one of the largest surveys undertaken of CAM in cancer.

In the first Europe-wide study of CAM, a team of international researchers found that its use varied from a low of just under 15% of cancer patients in Greece to a high of nearly three-quarters of patients in Italy.

Writing in Annals of Oncology[1] (Thursday 3 February) lead author Dr Alex Molassiotis said that their survey of nearly 1,000 patients showed that it was vital that health professionals were aware of CAM use and able to educate patients, and that the EU was involved in regulating it more efficiently.

"Irrespective of what health professionals believe about CAM and how dismissive they might be, our findings show that patients are using, and will continue to use CAM. So, this will probably necessitate rethinking the provision of medical and healthcare education, broadening our understanding of the concept of medicine and working towards integrating into mainstream healthcare services those CAM therapies for which there is evidence of effectiveness," said Dr Molassiotis, who is Reader in cancer and supportive care at the University of Manchester School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work, the leading research department of nursing in the UK.

The survey of 956 patients was carried out by members of the European Oncology Nursing Society through patient questionnaires in clinics in 14 countries. Patients' age ranged from 17 to 91 years. Over 60% were women.

It found that that CAM users tended to be female, younger and more highly educated and that pancreatic, liver, bone and brain cancer patients (i.e. patients with poor prognosis) used CAM significantly more often than other patients.

Length of treatment ranged from as little as one month up to 18 years, with a mean of 27 months. In most countries around a third used CAM, with only Italy

Contact: Margaret Willson
European Society for Medical Oncology

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