Why cancer patients turn to alternative medicine

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Cancer patients who are older, female, and university educated tend to expect greater benefits from complementary and alternative medicine, a US study has found.

A survey of 969 cancer patients shows that attitudes and beliefs, such as expectation of therapeutic benefits, perceived barriers of cost and access, and opinions of physicians and family members, may all predict use of complementary and alternative medicine.

The results, published in the journal CANCER, a journal of the American Cancer Society, may help hospitals develop more effective and accessible oncology services for patients.

A team, led by Jun Mao and Joshua Bauml of the Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, conducted a survey-based study on thoracic, breast, and gastrointestinal medical oncology clinics.

The researchers noted that therapies such as acupuncture and yoga continue to demonstrate clinical benefits for reducing pain, fatigue and psychological distress.

“Our findings emphasise the importance of patients’ attitudes and beliefs about complementary and alternative medicine as we seek to develop integrative oncology programs in academic medical centres and community hospitals,” said Dr Bauml.

“By aligning with patients’ expectations, removing unnecessary structural barriers, and engaging patients’ social and support networks, we can develop patient-centred clinical programs that better serve diverse groups of cancer patients regardless of sex, race, and education levels.”

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