Patients Report Substantial Improvement With Alternative Care
If the results of a survey of pediatric cancer patients in western
Washington state are typical of the rest of the country, nearly three-quarters
of all pediatric cancer patients use alternative therapies to treat
the cancer or cope with side effects from standard medical treatments.
That was the conclusion of the survey conducted by the Fred Hutchinson
Cancer Research Center which appeared in the November 2001 issue
of Preventive Medicine.
The survey was the first population-based study in the United States
to look at use alternative medicine use in children with cancer.
Marian L. Neuhouser, Ph.D., R.D., and colleagues in the Hutchinson
Center's Public Health Sciences Division led the study, which was
supported by grants from the National Cancer Institute and funds
from the Hutchinson Center. Researchers at Bastyr University in Kenmore,
Wash., also consulted on the project.
"The use of alternative medicine is well known among adult
cancer patients, but until now, little has been known about the use
of these therapies in children with cancer," said Dr. Neuhouser,
a senior staff scientist in cancer-prevention research.
"The bottom line is that the majority of pediatric cancer
patients in western Washington -- 73% of those surveyed -- are using
some form of alternative medicine or therapy. In addition, most patients
and their families report substantial improvements in health and
well-being as a result of using alternative medicine," she said.
The survey was based on telephone interviews with the parents of
75 living pediatric cancer patients (ages 0-18 years) who had been
first diagnosed with invasive cancer between February 1997 and December
Since there is no single, consistent definition of alternative
medicine in the published literature or in the mind of the public,
the researchers based their survey on the "domains" of
alternative medicine described by the National Institutes of Health's
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
To streamline the survey process, the researchers collapsed the
domains into three subgroups: alternative providers, dietary supplements
and "other" therapies (diet or physical activity; mental
and spiritual therapies such as prayer, meditation and support groups;
and energetic interventions such as crystals and magnets).
Patients were considered a user of alternative medicine if they
received care from an alternative provider within the past year or
had used at least one alternative supplement or therapy.
The most pervasive form of alternative treatment among those surveyed
was the use of herbal and high-dose vitamin supplements, which were
used, respectively, by 54% and 59% of the patients, many of whom
also used several such products simultaneously.
More than 20% of patients surveyed received care from an alternative
provider such as a naturopathic doctor, Native American healer or
massage therapist. The vast majority (90%) of such alternative providers
and mental therapies were used to treat cancer symptoms or treatment
About a third of alternative providers and dietary supplements
were used to prevent recurrence or spread of the cancer. The most
common alternative intervention, however, was the use of herbs and
dietary supplements to promote general health and treat non-cancer
conditions, such as colds.
Parents attributed substantial improvement in their child's health
and well-being to alternative treatments and therapies. Between 60%
and 90% reported improvements due to alternative providers, vitamin
and herbal supplements, dietary changes, physical activity, and mental
and spiritual therapies.
There was no association between disease progression and use of
alternative medicine, contrary to previous studies in adults that
supposedly found a positive relationship between the two.
SOURCE: "Majority of pediatric cancer patients use alternative
therapies," Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Oct. 31,
2001.; " Use of Alternative Medicine by Children with Cancer
in Washington State, by Marian L. Neuhouser, et. al., Preventive
Medicine, Nov. 1, 2001.