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Friday 28th October 2016

Secrets of cancer survivors

11th August 2008

A new study into thousands of people who have survived various kinds of cancer has given the first glimpse into how cancer patients use complementary and alternative therapies.


The American Cancer Society paper published in the journal Cancer, looked at more than 4,000 cancer survivors and surveyed their use of treatments, techniques, or methods that are used along with standard or mainstream medicine, known as complementary therapies.

Alternative therapy refers to a therapy that is used instead of conventional medicine which is unproven in clinical trials. This group can also include bogus and life-threatening 'therapies'.

More than half of the participants in the American Cancer Society's Study of Cancer Survivors used some type of alternative or complementary therapy.

Study co-author Ted Gansler said complementary methods were extremely popular among cancer survivors, who spent a lot of their time, money, and attention on them.

He called for further research to determine which therapies were helpful, not only for shrinking tumours and extending survival, but also for relieving symptoms and improving quality of life.

The most frequent alternative therapy was listed as prayer, or spiritual practice, reported by 61.4% of cancer survivors, with relaxation used by 44.3% and faith/spiritual healing by 42.4%.

Fourth most popular were vitamins and nutritional supplements at 40.1%, followed by meditation, practised by 15%, religious counselling, used by 11.3% and massage, used by 11.2%.

Also reported were support groups, hypnosis, biofeedback and acupuncture or acupressure.

Women were more likely to use such alternative or complementary therapies, especially breast or ovarian cancer patients. The younger, better educated and more affluent the cancer survivor, the more likely they were to use them.

Women were more likely than men to use energy techniques such as Tai Chi and yoga, with an uptake of 10.1% vs 1.9%, and manipulative body practices such as massage, with 16.9% uptake among women compared with 3.9% among men.

Further investigations into the topic of complementary and alternative medicine use among cancer survivors will be forthcoming.

In setting its challenge goals for the year 2015, the American Cancer Society not only recognised the importance of reducing cancer incidence and mortality, but also of improving the quality of life of cancer survivors.

The Behavioural Research Center has implemented a major research program to assess the quality of life of cancer survivors: The Study of Cancer Survivors.


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