- NEW YORK (Reuters
Health) -- Over 70% of breast cancer patients are combining traditional
medical treatments with alternative therapies such as acupuncture, herbs,
prayer, or nutritional supplements. But study findings show that many do
not inform their physicians of their use of alternative therapies.
- ``Only a third of women with breast cancer disclosed
using alternative treatment to their medical doctors while almost all women
discussed their (traditional) biomedical treatment with their alternative
practitioners,'' according to a statement from the University of California,
San Francisco (UCSF).
- An ongoing 5-year study has been undertaken by UCSF researchers
to determine the reason for this lack of disclosure. Primary study results,
published in the June 1999 issue of The Journal of Family Practice, were
based on interviews with 86 English-, Spanish- or Chinese-speaking women
who were recently diagnosed with breast cancer while living in San Francisco.
The most recent findings were presented Thursday at the 11th International
Congress on Women's Health Issues in San Francisco.
- ``Participants who chose not to reveal their use of alternative
medicine gave one or more of the following reasons for their decision:
the impression of physician disinterest; the anticipation of a negative
response; (and) the conviction that the physician is unwilling or unable
to contribute useful information,'' principal investigator Dr. Shelley
R. Adler told Reuters Health. The patients also believed that ``the complementary
and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies used are irrelevant to the biomedical
treatment course,'' said Adler, an assistant professor in the Department
of Anthropology, History and Social Medicine at UCSF.
- One patient quoted in the study stated, ``When I raised
the subject of alternative medicine, my oncologist would really pooh-pooh
it. It isn't that I need him to believe in it -- I just don't want someone
to dismiss it all... and thereby, in some ways, be disrespectful to me.''
- The women ``typically were not looking for physicians'
belief in or endorsement of particular alternative therapies,'' the authors
explained, ``but they did appreciate physicians who were respectful, open-minded,
willing to listen, and honest about the limitations of their own knowledge
of complementary and alternative medicine.''
- ``Unresponsiveness was taken as a sign that the physician
did not want to hear more about the patient's practices,'' Adler and co-author
Jennifer R. Fosket, note in their report.
- The investigators also found, contrary to popular thought,
that the women who sought out alternative means of treatment were not older
individuals, ``willing to try anything after receiving a diagnosis of cancer.''
Instead, alternative therapies were more commonly used in the 35 to 49
year old age group than in those over age 60. And many participants ``used
CAM treatments before they knew they had breast cancer,'' the researchers
- Regardless of a patient's reasons for complementing traditional
medicine with alternative therapies, ``It is important to be able to establish
a relationship with one's healthcare practitioner that allows for the sharing
of all types of health-related information,'' Adler concluded. She stressed,
''certain alternative therapies have demonstrable beneficial effects and
others may interact with pharmacologic (drug) therapies in clinically significant