Background: The use of complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) in patients with cancer is well recognized. Little is known, however, about the use of CAM in children with cancer during the end-of-life period.
Methods: We interviewed 96 parents of children who had died of cancer in Melbourne, Australia between 1996 and 2004 to establish the prevalence of CAM use during the end-of-life period. Factors affecting the use of CAM were explored. We also determined the perceived efficacy of CAM use and its effect on the overall experience of end-of-life care.
Results: Thirty percent of parents caring for a child with cancer reported using some form of CAM during the end-of-life period, with 44% of these families using more than one type. The most common therapies used were organic foods, faith healing, and homeopathy. There was a strong correlation between open discussion about treatment alternatives with the treating physician and parental use of CAM. The majority (78%) of respondents felt CAM use had benefited their child significantly and most felt it had not caused additional suffering.
Conclusions: A significant number of children with cancer are administered CAM during the end-of-life period and most families in our study had found it beneficial. The main focus should continue to be on open and honest communication between caregivers and families in order to provide the best possible holistic care.