Use of alternative therapies among breast cancer outpatients compared with the general population

Altern Ther Health Med. 1999 Jan;5(1):71-6.


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.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Ambulatory Care
  • Breast Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Complementary Therapies*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Surveys and Questionnaires