Use of alternative medicine by patients with cancer in a rural area of Switzerland

Author: van der Weg F//Streuli RA
Department of Medicine, SRO-Hospital Langenthal, Switzerland
Conference/Journal: Swiss Med Wkly
Date published: 2003
Other: Volume ID: 133 , Issue ID: 15-16 , Pages: 233-40 , Word Count: 233

BACKGROUND: Many cancer patients use alternative therapies in addition to conventional treatment. In a survey among such patients, we assessed the prevalence of and the motivation for alternative therapy use in a rural area of Switzerland. METHODS: From 1st February to 30th November 2001, we interviewed 108 patients treated in the oncology outpatient clinic of the Langenthal District General Hospital, Switzerland, using a structured questionnaire. 77% of the patients were female. 49% of the patients (i.e., 64% of the female patients) suffered from breast cancer. RESULTS: 42 (39%) of all patients had used an alternative therapy in addition to conventional treatment at least once. Mistletoe preparations were by far the most popular with a prevalence of 74%. Homeopathy (24%) and cancer diets (12%) were used less often. 79% of the patients seeking help from alternative treatment informed their treating oncologist and/or medical practitioner accordingly. 57% of the doctors encouraged their patients to continue the alternative treatment, none discouraged the patient to do so. The main reasons for the use of alternative therapy were: the desire to feel more hopeful (83%); 'to do as much as possible myself to cure the disease' (83%); and to harness mental energy (62%). Only 19% of the patients hoped to be cured of cancer by alternative therapy. CONCLUSIONS: The motivation to seek help from alternative treatment is not based on a distrust of conventional care. Maintaining hope and taking an active role in self-care are the main stimuli for using alternative medicine.