Use of alternative medicine by women with early-stage breast cancer

N Engl J Med. 1999 Jun 3;340(22):1733-9. doi: 10.1056/NEJM199906033402206.


Background: We analyzed the use of alternative medicine by women who had received standard therapy for early-stage breast cancer diagnosed between September 1993 and September 1995.

Methods: A cohort of 480 patients with newly diagnosed early-stage breast cancer was recruited from a Massachusetts statewide cohort of women participating in a study of how women choose treatment for cancer. Alternative medical treatments, conventional therapies, and health-related quality of life were examined.

Results: New use of alternative medicine after surgery for breast cancer was common (reported by 28.1 percent of the women); such use was not associated with choices about standard medical therapies after we controlled for clinical and sociodemographic variables. A total of 10.6 percent of the women had used alternative medicine before they were given a diagnosis of breast cancer. Women who initiated the use of alternative medicine after surgery reported a worse quality of life than women who never used alternative medicine. Mental health scores were similar at base line among women who decided to use alternative medicine and those who did not, but three months after surgery the use of alternative medicine was independently associated with depression, fear of recurrence of cancer, lower scores for mental health and sexual satisfaction, and more physical symptoms as well as symptoms of greater intensity. All groups of women reported improving quality of life one year after surgery.

Conclusions: Among women with newly diagnosed early-stage breast cancer who had been treated with standard therapies, new use of alternative medicine was a marker of greater psychosocial distress and worse quality of life.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Breast Neoplasms / psychology
  • Breast Neoplasms / surgery
  • Breast Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Complementary Therapies / statistics & numerical data*
  • Data Collection
  • Depression
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Quality of Life
  • Random Allocation
  • Socioeconomic Factors