Open Access Open Badges Research article

Complementary and alternative medicine use among women at increased genetic risk of breast and ovarian cancer

Christine M Mueller1*, Phuong L Mai1, Jaime Bucher2, June A Peters1, Jennifer T Loud1 and Mark H Greene1

Author Affiliations

1 Clinical Genetics Branch, Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, USA

2 College of Medicine, University of Toledo, Toledo, Ohio, USA

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BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2008, 8:17  doi:10.1186/1472-6882-8-17

Published: 30 April 2008



Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) use is well documented among breast cancer patients and survivors, but little evidence is available to describe rates and patterns of use among women at increased genetic risk of breast cancer.


A pre-visit telephone interview was conducted to ascertain CAM use among the BRCA mutation carriers enrolled in a high-risk breast cancer screening study. Participants were asked to report on their use of thirteen therapies within the year prior to enrollment into the study. Logistic regression was used to evaluate the association between various factors and CAM use in this population.


Among the 164 BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation-positive (BRCA+) women in this analysis, 78% reported CAM use, with prayer and lifestyle diet being the two most commonly reported modalities. Many subjects used multiple CAM therapies, with 34% reporting use of three or more modalities. The most commonly used modalities were mind-body therapies and biologically-based practices, 61.6% and 51.8%, respectively. High-risk women were more likely to use CAM if they were older, more educated, more worried about ovarian cancer risk, or had a previous cancer diagnosis.


This study suggests that the prevalence of CAM use is high among BRCA mutation carriers, with frequency of use comparable to that of breast cancer patients and survivors. Given the high prevalence of CAM use in our subjects, especially biologically-based therapies including herbal supplements, whose safety and efficacy in relation to cancer risk are unknown, our study suggests that future research is necessary to clarify these risks, and that it is important for providers to inquire about and to discuss the pros and cons of CAM use with their BRCA+ patients.