Attitudes and knowledge about direct and indirect risks among conventional and complementary health care providers in cancer care

BMC Complement Altern Med. 2018 Jan 31;18(1):44. doi: 10.1186/s12906-018-2106-z.


Background: Many complementary therapies offer benefits for patients with cancer. Others may be risky for patients due to negative interactions with conventional treatment and adverse effects. Therefore, cancer patients need guidance from health care providers to assess complementary modalities appropriately to receive benefits and avoid harm.

Method: In a self-administered questionnaire-based cross-sectional study, we compared knowledge and attitudes of health care providers with no training in complementary modalities to that of health care providers with training in complementary modalities about the risks for patients who combine complementary modalities with conventional treatment in cancer care. The analysis was based on responses from 466 participants.

Results: The attitudes and knowledge about direct risk followed provider specialty. Ninety-four percent of the medical doctors, 93% of the nurses, and 87% of the providers with dual training, but 70% of the complementary therapists, believed that complementary modalities can cause adverse effects (p < 0.001). The majority of the medical doctors and nurses believed that it is risky to combine complementary and conventional cancer treatments (78% and 93%, respectively), compared to 58% of the providers with dual training and 43% of the complementary therapists (p < 0.001). Eighty-nine percent of the medical doctors and nurses believed that complementary modalities should be subjected to more scientific testing before being accepted by conventional health care providers, in contrast to 56% of the dually trained and 57% of the complementary therapists (p < 0.001). The majority of the medical doctors (61%) and nurses (55%) would have neither discouraged nor encouraged the use of complementary modalities if patients asked them for advice. Moreover, less than 1% of the complementary therapists would have discouraged the use of conventional cancer treatments. The study participants believed that the most important factor to recommend a complementary cancer modality to patients is evidence for safety.

Conclusion: The health care providers in this study believed that complementary modalities are associated with direct risk and can cause adverse effects, and that it is risky to combine conventional and complementary treatments due to potential harmful interactions.

Keywords: Complementary and alternative medicine: Cancer car; Complementary therapists; Conventional health care providers; Direct risk; Indirect risk; Patient safety; Risk assessment.

MeSH terms

  • Complementary Therapies*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Health Personnel / psychology*
  • Health Personnel / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Safety
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / statistics & numerical data*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Surveys and Questionnaires