Background: Complementary and alternative therapies (CATs) are increasingly being used by cancer patients. These patients often rely on information retrieved from the lay press, which can affect their choices towards unconventional treatments for their disease. In this study, we aimed at assessing UK newspapers' coverage of CATs for cancer.
Methods: The "Lexis Nexis" database was searched for 3-month periods in 2002, 2003 and 2004. The search terms were combined: "complementary OR alternative AND medicine OR therapy AND cancer". CATs were grouped and articles' contents were assessed according to predefined criteria.
Results: A total of 310 articles were found: 117 came from national newspapers; 193 came from local newspaper issues. The UK press showed an increasing interest towards CATs for cancer (in 2002, 81 articles; in 2003, 82 articles and in 2004, 147 articles). The most frequently mentioned alternative therapies were diets and supplements (17.7%). Articles mainly focused on CATs as possible cancer treatments (44.8%), and 53.4% of all CATs mentioned were not backed up by trial data. The tone of the articles was generally positive towards CATs. Promotional articles increased over the years, especially for cancer centres and clinics.
Conclusion: UK national newspapers frequently publish articles on CATs for cancer. Much of this information seems to be uncritical with a potential for misleading patients.