Communication between physicians and cancer patients about complementary and alternative medicine: exploring patients' perspectives

Psychooncology. May-Jun 2002;11(3):212-20. doi: 10.1002/pon.552.


The aim of this paper is to identify barriers to communication between physicians and cancer patients regarding complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) by exploring the perspectives of patients. In face of the recent popularity of CAM use among cancer patients, the lack of communication is a serious problem. A number of CAM therapies may interfere with conventional treatments and thus impact patients' well-being and chances of survival. In addition, lack of communication is problematic in the health care context because the development of openness and trust between health care providers and clients is contingent upon effective interpersonal communication. We conducted semi-structured interviews with 143 cancer patients to explore their experiences with CAM use. Using a qualitative research method, we examined interview data from 93 CAM users who provided sufficient information about communication issues. As a result, three themes emerged describing barriers to unsuccessful communication as perceived from the patient's point of view: physicians' indifference or opposition toward CAM use, physicians' emphasis on scientific evidence, and patients' anticipation of a negative response from their physician. Increasing education about CAM and regular assessment of CAM use may help physicians to be more aware of their patients' CAM use. As a result, physicians may provide patients with information on risks and benefits of CAM use and refer patients to other services that may address unmet needs. Given a difference in epistemiologic beliefs about cancer and its treatment, the challenge is to find a common ground for an open discussion in which physicians consider that scientific evidence is not all that counts in the life of an individual facing a serious disease.

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
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Communication*
  • Complementary Therapies*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interview, Psychological
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Patients / psychology*
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Professional Practice
  • Sampling Studies