The role of the Internet in cancer patients' engagement with complementary and alternative treatments

Health (London). 2008 Apr;12(2):139-55. doi: 10.1177/1363459307086841.


This article draws on a study of 80 National Health Service cancer patients and their experiences of using the Internet within disease and treatment processes. It focuses on the role the Internet plays in the context of potential or actual engagement with complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). The results depart from previous conceptualizations of the Internet as a major source of CAM knowledge, and second, as a major pathway to patient CAM usage. Moreover, the results highlight significant anxiety as patients attempt to process vast amounts of complex biomedical diagnostic and prognostic information online. For patients attempting to embrace alternative therapeutic models of cancer care, exposure to prognostic data may pose considerable risks to individual well-being and engagement with healing practices. On the basis of these results we problematize social theorizations of the Internet as contributing to such things as: the democratization of knowledge; the deprofessionalization of medicine; and patient empowerment. We emphasize, instead, the potential role of the Internet in reinforcing biomedicine's paradigmatic dominance in cancer care.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Complementary Therapies*
  • Consumer Health Information
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internet*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / psychology
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Patient Participation