One-third cancer patients use integrative care, study says

One-third of people with a cancer diagnosis use complementary and alternative medicines, including yoga, meditation, acupuncture, herbal medicine, and supplements, according to research from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, which was published in the journal JAMA Oncology.

Nina Sanford, MD, an assistant professor of radiation oncology, analyzed data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health Interview Survey. She found herbal supplements were the most common alternative medicine used by cancer patients, followed by chiropractic or osteopathic manipulation. Younger patients were more likely to use complementary and alternative medicines, Sanford said.

The most striking discovery, Sanford said, was that some patients do not disclose use of complementary and alternative medicine to their physicians. Many survey respondents said they did not say anything because their doctors did not ask, or they did not think their doctors needed to know.

Sanford and other cancer specialists say this is concerning, especially regarding herbal supplements, which might interact poorly with prescription medications or interfere with radiation treatment. This could lead to higher toxicity, or a drop in efficacy.

Some patients do opt to take supplements after cancer treatments, such as turmeric, omega-3, vitamin D, and vitamin B6. In addition to supplements, many patients practice meditation and yoga. These practices empower patients and give them a sense of control over their health.

While some medical doctors are highly cautious about the use of herbs and other supplements during treatment, they are often open to meditation and yoga as practices that can help patients cope with the shock of a cancer diagnosis and the stress of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery, Sanford said.

For practitioners working with cancer patients, it is important to stress that they disclose any alternative treatments they may be using. A successful integrative approach to cancer care is possible and can greatly increase the quality of life for patients, but it must be a collaborative effort, with open communication, between patients and practitioners.