Context: Breast cancer is the second largest cause of cancer death among women in the United States. Given the fear associated with its morbidity and mortality, patients might seek a variety of alternative treatments. No careful description of breast cancer patients' interest in or use of these therapies appears to exist.
Objective: To create a profile that describes interest in and use of a wide variety of alternative therapies available to breast cancer outpatients; to gather data concerning related issues such as the number of appointments for these therapies, their cost, and reimbursement patterns; and to compare these findings with a published profile of the general public.
Design: An interview gauging patients' interest in and use of alternative treatments followed by 2 questionnaires concerning (1) mental adjustment to the cancer experience and (2) personal growth in response to the encounter with cancer.
Setting: Suburban breast cancer clinic in a Midwestern university medical center.
Participants: 112 female breast cancer outpatients.
Main outcome measures: Rankings of interest in and use of alternative treatments by the patients interviewed.
Results: The 3 most frequently used alternative therapies were prayer (76%), exercise (38%), and spiritual healing (29%). Comparison with the general public profiles revealed that breast cancer patients more frequently used 17 specific alternative therapies. The largest increases were found in the use of prayer (51% increase), spiritual healing (25% increase), and megavitamins (23% increase). Only chiropractic was used substantially more often among the general population.
Conclusion: Breast cancer outpatients involved in conventional treatment are more likely to use a wide range of alternative therapies than is the general public. It is likely that the mortality and morbidity associated with breast cancer motivates this increased use.