Doctor-patient communication and cancer patients' choice of alternative therapies as supplement or alternative to conventional care

Scand J Caring Sci. 2013 Mar;27(1):70-6. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-6712.2012.01002.x. Epub 2012 May 14.


Cancer patients' use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is widespread, despite the fact that clinical studies validating the efficacy of CAM remain sparse in the Nordic countries. The purpose of this study was to explore possible connections between cancer patients' communication experiences with doctors and the decision to use CAM as either supplement or alternative to conventional treatment (CT). The Regional Committee for Medical and Health Research Ethics and the Norwegian Data Inspectorate approved the study. From a group of 52 cancer patients with self-reported positive experiences from use of CAM, 13 were selected for qualitative interviews. Six used CAM as supplement, and seven as alternative to CT, periodically or permanently. Communication experiences with 46 doctors were described. The analysis revealed three connections between doctor-patient communication and patients' treatment decisions: (i) negative communication experiences because of the use of CAM; (ii) negative communication experiences resulted in the decision to use CAM, and in some cases to decline CT; and (iii) positive communication experiences led to the decision to use CAM as supplement, not alternative to CT. The patients, including the decliners of CT, wanted to discuss treatment decisions in well-functioning interpersonal processes with supportive doctors. In doctors' practices and education of doctors, a greater awareness of potential positive and negative outcomes of doctor-patient communication that concern CAM issues could be of importance. More research is needed to safeguard CAM users' treatment decisions and their relationship to conventional health care.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Communication
  • Complementary Therapies*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Norway
  • Physician-Patient Relations*