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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The use of complementary and alternative medicines among patients with locally advanced breast cancer – a descriptive study

Lucy K Helyer1, Stephen Chin2, Betty K Chui2, Barbara Fitzgerald2, Sunil Verma2, Eileen Rakovitch3, George Dranitsaris34 and Mark Clemons2*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Surgical Oncology, Toronto-Sunnybrook Regional Cancer Centre, Sunnybrook and Women's College Health Sciences Centre, 2075 Bayview Ave, Toronto, ON, M4N 3M5, Canada

2 Division of Medical Oncology, Toronto-Sunnybrook Regional Cancer Centre, Sunnybrook and Women's College Health Sciences Centre, 2075 Bayview Ave, Toronto, ON, M4N 3M5, Canada

3 Department of Radiation Oncology, University of Toronto, Cancer Care, Ontario, canada

4 Department of Radiation Oncology, University of Toronto, Cancer Care Ontario, 600 University Ave Toronto, ON Canada

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BMC Cancer 2006, 6:39  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-6-39

Published: 21 February 2006

Abstract

Background

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) use is common among cancer patients. This paper reviews the use of CAM in a series of patients with locally advanced breast cancer (LABC).

Methods

Women with LABC attending a specialist clinic at a single Canadian cancer centre were identified and approached. Participants completed a self-administered survey regarding CAM usage, beliefs associated with CAM usage, views of their risks of developing recurrent cancer and of dying of breast cancer. Responses were scored and compared between CAM users and non-users.

Results

Thirty-six patients were approached, 32 completed the questionnaire (response rate 89%). Forty-seven percent of LABC patients were identified as CAM users. CAM users were more likely to be younger, married, in a higher socioeconomic class and of Asian ethnicity than non-users. CAM users were likely to use multiple modalities simultaneously (median 4) with vitamins being the most popular (60%). Motivation for CAM therapy was described as, "assisting their body to heal" (75%), to 'boost the immune system' (56%) and to "give a feeling of control with respect to their treatment" (56%). CAM therapy was used concurrently with conventional treatment in 88% of cases, however, 12% of patients felt that CAM could replace their conventional therapy. Psychological evaluation suggests CAM users perceived their risk of dying of breast cancer was similar to that of the non-Cam group (33% vs. 35%), however the CAM group had less severe anxiety and depression.

Conclusion

The motivation, objectives and benefits of CAM therapy in a selected population of women with LABC are similar to those reported for women diagnosed with early stage breast cancer. CAM users display less anxiety and depression and are less likely to believe they will die of their breast cancer. However the actual benefit to overall and disease free survival has yet to be demonstrated, as well as the possible interactions with conventional therapy. Consequently more research is needed in this ever-growing field.