Use of Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Radiotherapy Patients - Results of a German Multicenter Study

Reviewer: Heather Jones, MD
Last Modified: October 9, 2002

Presenter: Micke, Oliver
Presenter's Affiliation: Department of Radiotherapy, Münster University Hospital, Münster
Type of Session: Scientific


    The use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is a frequent phenomenon among cancer patients. Currently there is only limited knowledge about the patterns of use in patients undergoing radiotherapy for malignant diseases. In this study the German Working 'Trace Elements and Electrolytes in Radiation Oncology' performed a multicenter evaluation in Germany to evaluate the use of CAM in cancer patients in addition to radiotherapy.

Materials and Methods

  • A total of 1013 patients (476 female, 537 male) from 5 institutions participated in the study
  • All patients were receiving radiation therapy for a biopsy proven malignancy
  • Tumor parameters and the use of CAM where evaluated as well as, the reason for the use, by what means did the patients received the CAM medication, the source of CAM information and the subjective self-assessment of patients personal conditions and quality of life was documented.


  • The most frequent histologies were: Head and neck cancer (33 %), breast cancer (29%), prostate cancer (18%) and lung cancer.
  • The overall CAM use in this population was 56 %
  • Of the patients using CAM, 66% were female patients and 34 were male.
  • CAM use was most frequent in breast cancer patients (91%), followed by patients with Hodgkin's disease (83%), other gynecologic malignancies (58%), renal cell carcinoma (50%) and rectal cancer (50%).
  • The most commonly used CAM, in this population were: Vitamin combinations (18%), treatment with mistle toe preparations (15%), selenium (10%), other trace elements preparations (7%), thymus preparations (6%) and homeopathy (4%). 6% of patients used prayer as a complementary spiritual measure.
  • 60% of patients younger than 60 years and 52% of patients older than 60 years reported a CAM use.
  • The most cited reasons for CAM use were: 'Supporting the conventional treatment (46%) and 'a better feeling' (23%).
  • Of the CAM users 50% purchased CAM themselves the other 50% use a prescription plan coverage
  • The CAM medication was bought in majority of cases in drugstores (39%) and pharmacies (23%).
  • Most the CAM information in this population was obtained from the family physician (26%) and other patients (21%).

Author's Conclusions

    More than half of all the patients in this patient population were using CAM. Every cancer patients should be asked about CAM use. This frequent phenomenon should be documented and taken into account especially in clinical studies.

Clinical/Scientific Implications

    The final conclusion of this study continues to underscore the need for physicians to be aware of cancer patients CAM utilization. For the appropriate treatment recommendations to be made, a physician must be aware of all treatment modalities a patient is considering. Also, important clinically is the theoretical concern that some of these CAM therapies may interact with conventional cancer treatments and/or cause significant side effects. There is an ever growing body of evidence demonstrating the significant CAM use in the cancer patient population and it highlights the need for prospective studies evaluating the commonly used CAM therapies.

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