Background: Virtually no research has been conducted on patient assessments of traditional medicines and allopathic medicines for cancer care in poorer countries marked by pluralistic medical environments. Pakistan represents an excellent case for such a study because of the coexistence of culturally and historically specific indigenous traditional medicine, the strong presence of allopathic medicine, and, to a lesser extent, the availability of some globalized complementary and alternative medicines.
Aim: To gain a preliminary understanding of cancer patients' perceptions of effectiveness and satisfaction with traditional medicine, globalized complementary and alternative medicine, and allopathy in the context of a pluralistic medical environment.
Study design: Structured survey of 362 cancer patients, from diverse regions in the Punjab province and Northwest Frontier province, who were being treated in 4 different hospitals in Lahore, Pakistan.
Results: Use of traditional medicine remains high among cancer patients, with traditional healers used by the majority of those surveyed. Although patients' perceptions of the overall effectiveness of traditional medicines for treating cancer are low, those patients who do use traditional medicines still have high levels of satisfaction with these modalities. This is distinct from levels of satisfaction with, and perceptions of effectiveness of, Western cancer treatments, which were synonymous in this group of patients. Important differences in patient perceptions were found within groups (eg, between different forms of traditional healers) as well as between them.
Conclusion: This study showed considerable support for complementary and alternative medicine/traditional medicine but also significant variation in usage of and perceptions of local traditional medicines. More research needs to be done to explore the social processes underlying this variation in cancer patients' preferences for particular traditional medicines.