Types of alternative medicine used by patients with breast, colon, or prostate cancer: Predictors, motives, and costs

Ruth E. Patterson, Marian L. Neuhouser, Monique M. Hedderson, Stephen M. Schwartz, Leanna J. Standish, Deborah J. Bowen, Lynn M. Marshall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

185 Scopus citations


Objective: Assess predictors and costs of various types of alternative medicine used by adult patients with cancer. Design, location, subjects: Telephone survey of 356 patients with colon, breast, or prostate cancer identified from the population-based Cancer Surveillance System of western Washington. Results: Overall, 70.2% of patients used at least one type of alternative medicine, with 16.6% seeing alternative providers, 19.1% using mental/other therapy, and 64.6% taking dietary supplements. Compared to males, females were five times more likely to see an alternative provider and about twice as likely to use mental therapies or supplements (p < 0.05 for all). Older patients were less likely to use mental/other therapy. Higher education (but not income) was associated with use of all types of alternative medicine. Patients with multiple medical treatments were two times more likely to take dietary supplements compared to patients having only surgery (p < 0.01). Varying by the type of alternative therapy, 83%-97% of patients reported that they used alternative medicine for general health and well-being while 8% to 56% reported use for treatment of cancer. Almost all patients reported that the alternative therapy improved their well-being. Expenditures for alternative medicine averaged $68 per user per year, but ranged from $4 to $14,659. Conclusions: Given the high prevalence of use and that patients believed that alternative medicine improved their well-being, clinicians should show an open mind toward these treatment choices and encourage frank discussion. Familiarity and some knowledge regarding use of alternative medicine is important in cases where interactions between conventional and alternative medicine may occur. It is also important to identify potential patient needs for mental health support beyond conventional care and support patients who want to make healthful lifestyle changes. Longitudinal investigations are urgently needed to investigate associations of alternative medicine use with survival and quality of life in patients with cancer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)477-485
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2002

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Complementary and alternative medicine


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