Background: Use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) by women with breast cancer is often said to be increasing, yet few data exist to confirm this commonly held belief. The purpose of this paper is to compare overall patterns of CAM use, as well as use of specific products and therapies at two different points in time (1998 vs 2005) by women diagnosed with breast cancer.
Methods: Surveys were mailed to women randomly selected from the Ontario Cancer Registry (Canada) in the spring of 1998 (n = 557) and again in the spring of 2005(n = 877).
Results: The response rates were 76.3% in 1998 and 63% in 2005. In 1998, 66.7% of women reported using either a CAM product/therapy or seeing a CAM therapist at some time in their lives as compared with 81.9% in 2005 (p = 0.0002). Increases were seen in both use of CAM products/therapies (62% in 1998 vs. 70.6% in 2005) and visits to CAM practitioners (39.4% of respondents in 1998 vs 57.4% of respondents in 2005). Women in 2005 reported that 41% used CAM for treating their breast cancer. The most commonly used products and practitioners for treating breast cancer as reported in 2005 were green tea, vitamin E, flaxseed, vitamin C, massage therapists and dietitians/nutritionists.
Conclusion: CAM use (both self-medication with products and visits to CAM practitioners) increased significantly from 1998 to 2005. Now that more than 80% of all women with breast cancer report using CAM (41% in a specific attempt to management their breast cancer), CAM use can no longer be regarded as an "alternative" or unusual approach to managing breast cancer.