Unmonitored use of herbal medicine by patients with breast cancer: reframing expectations

J Cancer Res Clin Oncol. 2017 Nov;143(11):2267-2273. doi: 10.1007/s00432-017-2471-x. Epub 2017 Jun 30.


Purpose: To identify the unmonitored use of herbal medicine by female patients with breast cancer, examining the impact of an integrative physician (IP) consultation on this practice.

Methods: The files of 269 female patients with breast cancer following an IP consultation were surveyed retrospectively for use of herbal medicine for cancer-related goals. Expectations from the IP consultation and adherence to the IP-guided treatments were examined as well.

Results: Among the cohort, 111 (41.3%) reported using herbal medicine for cancer-related goals, unmonitored by their oncology healthcare professional. Factors predicting herbal medicine use were the adoption of dietary changes (odds ratio = 13.6, p < 0.001, CI 7.16-26.0) and the expectation that the IP consultation and treatments would address cancer-related goals (odds ratio = 3.29, p = 0.001, CI 1.64-6.6). Patients with metastatic disease were more likely to be using herbal medicine than non-users (34.5 vs. 22.8%; p = 0.088), as were those who had consulted with a complementary/alternative medicine practitioner (54.9 vs. 20.8%; p = 0.005). The IP advised 17 patients (15.3%) to stop taking specific herbal products due to safety-related concerns; and 10 patients to take dietary supplements for relief of specific symptoms. Herbal medicine users were less likely than non-users to adhere to the IP-recommended treatment program (34.7 vs. 48.3%; p = 0.037).

Conclusions: Unmonitored use of herbal medicine by patients with breast cancer is more frequent among those adopting dietary changes for cancer-related goals. Integrative physicians provide evidence-based guidance on the safe and effective use of herbal products, and reframe patient expectations from cancer-related goals to reducing symptoms and improving quality of life.

Keywords: Breast cancer; Complementary/integrative medicine; Herbal medicine; Herb–drug interaction; Safety.

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Complementary Therapies / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Herbal Medicine / methods*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Patient Compliance*
  • Physicians
  • Phytotherapy
  • Prognosis
  • Quality of Life*
  • Retrospective Studies