Use of Complementary and Alternative Medicine by Cancer Patients Is Not Associated with Perceived Distress or Poor Compliance with Standard Treatment but with Active Coping Behavior

Author: Wolfgang Söllner, Susanne Maislinger, Alexander DeVries, et al.
Content Contributor: Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Last Reviewed: November 01, 2001

Reviewers: Li Liu, MD
Source: Cancer, Volume 89:873-880, (August) 2000.

Précis: Interest in complementary medicine a sign of coping in cancer patients


Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is used by more than one third of the general population of industrialized nations (New England Journal of Medicine 1993 Jan 28;328(4):246-52; JAMA 1998 Nov 11;280(18):1569-75). The reasons for CAM?s present popularity most certainly are complex. Cancer patients are prime candidates for CAM use. There is evidence to suggest that oncologists, although often unfamiliar with CAM, may take a less negative view of CAM use today than they did previously (Canadian Medical Association Journal 1996 Dec 15;155(12):1679-85). In this study, the researchers investigated the prevalence of use of CAM in cancer patients and the association of use of CAM with their compliance with standard treatment.


A total of 172 patients undergoing active cancer treatment were evaluated using a structured questionnaire to record use of and interest in CAM.

  • More than half of studied patients either used CAM (24.4%) or were interested in these approaches (31.4%).
  • Cancer patients who used or were interested in CAM tended to be younger than others, were more likely to have progressive cancer, and more often used active coping mechanisms.
  • CAM users were more likely than nonusers to be women, to have recurrent cancer and to have metastases.

In this study, the use of complementary and alternative medicine by cancer patients was associated with active, positive coping with the disease, rather than distress or poor compliance with conventional treatment. Oncologists should discuss the use and interest in complementary and alternative medicine with their cancer patients to enhance a trustful physician-patient relationship.

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