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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Complementary and alternative medicine use in oncology: A questionnaire survey of patients and health care professionals

Kah Hoong Chang, Rachel Brodie, Mei Ann Choong, Karl J Sweeney and Michael J Kerin*

Author Affiliations

Department of Surgery, University College Hospital Galway, National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland

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BMC Cancer 2011, 11:196  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-11-196

Published: 24 May 2011

Abstract

Background

We aimed to investigate the prevalence and predictors of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) use among cancer patients and non-cancer volunteers, and to assess the knowledge of and attitudes toward CAM use in oncology among health care professionals.

Methods

This is a cross-sectional questionnaire survey conducted in a single institution in Ireland. Survey was performed in outpatient and inpatient settings involving cancer patients and non-cancer volunteers. Clinicians and allied health care professionals were asked to complete a different questionnaire.

Results

In 676 participants including 219 cancer patients; 301 non-cancer volunteers and 156 health care professionals, the overall prevalence of CAM use was 32.5% (29.1%, 30.9% and 39.7% respectively in the three study cohorts). Female gender (p < 0.001), younger age (p = 0.004), higher educational background (p < 0.001), higher annual household income (p = 0.001), private health insurance (p = 0.001) and non-Christian (p < 0.001) were factors associated with more likely CAM use. Multivariate analysis identified female gender (p < 0.001), non-Christian (p = 0.001) and private health insurance (p = 0.015) as independent predictors of CAM use. Most health care professionals thought they did not have adequate knowledge (58.8%) nor were up to date with the best evidence (79.2%) on CAM use in oncology. Health care professionals who used CAM were more likely to recommend it to patients (p < 0.001).

Conclusions

This study demonstrates a similarly high prevalence of CAM use among oncology health care professionals, cancer and non cancer patients. Patients are more likely to disclose CAM usage if they are specifically asked. Health care professionals are interested to learn more about various CAM therapies and have poor evidence-based knowledge on specific oncology treatments. There is a need for further training to meet to the escalation of CAM use among patients and to raise awareness of potential benefits and risks associated with these therapies.