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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The roles of herbal remedies in survival and quality of life among long-term breast cancer survivors - results of a prospective study

Huiyan Ma1*, Catherine L Carpenter2, Jane Sullivan-Halley1 and Leslie Bernstein1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Population Sciences, Beckman Research Institute, City of Hope, Duarte, CA, USA

2 Department of Medicine, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Los Angeles, CA, USA

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BMC Cancer 2011, 11:222  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-11-222

Published: 6 June 2011

Abstract

Background

Few data exist on survival or health-related quality of life (QOL) related to herbal remedy use among long-term breast cancer survivors. The objective of this report is to examine whether herbal remedy use is associated with survival or the health-related QOL of these long-term breast cancer survivors.

Methods

In 1999-2000, we collected the information of herbal remedy use and QOL during a telephone interview with 371 Los Angeles Non-Hispanic/Hispanic white women who had survived more than 10 years after breast cancer diagnosis. QOL was measured using the Medical Outcomes Study Short Form-36 (SF-36) questionnaire. Patients were followed for mortality from the baseline interview through 2007. 299 surviving patients completed a second telephone interview on QOL in 2002-2004. We used multivariable Cox proportional hazards methods to estimate relative risks (RR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) for mortality and applied multivariable linear regression models to compare average SF-36 change scores (follow-up - baseline) between herbal remedy users and non-users.

Results

Fifty-nine percent of participants were herbal remedy users at baseline. The most commonly used herbal remedies were echinacea, herbal teas, and ginko biloba. Herbal remedy use was associated with non-statistically significant increases in the risks for all-cause (44 deaths, RR = 1.28, 95% CI = 0.62-2.64) and breast cancer (33 deaths, RR = 1.78, 95% CI = 0.72-4.40) mortality. Both herbal remedy users' and non-users' mental component summary scores on the SF-36 increased similarly from the first survey to the second survey (P = 0.16), but herbal remedy users' physical component summary scores decreased more than those of non-users (-5.7 vs. -3.2, P = 0.02).

Conclusions

Our data provide some evidence that herbal remedy use is associated with poorer survival and a poorer physical component score for health-related QOL among women who have survived breast cancer for at least 10 years. These conclusions are based on exploratory analyses of data from a prospective study using two-sided statistical tests with no correction for multiple testing and are limited by few deaths for mortality analysis and lack of information on when herbal remedy use was initiated or duration of or reasons for use.

Keywords:
herb; breast cancer; survival; mortality; QOL