A cancer patient receives chemotherapy
A cancer patient receives chemotherapy

More women with breast cancer are choosing useless alternative therapies over chemotherapy, warn scientists

Researchers believe complementary therapy use in breast cancer sufferers has increased in the last twenty years

Siobhan Fenton
Thursday 12 May 2016 16:59
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Women suffering from breast cancer are turning to alternative and complementary therapies while rejecting chemotherapy, scientists have warned.

Researchers at Columbia University tracked chemotherapy uptake rates in women who had been recommended the treatment by their doctors. Among women who were taking non-traditional medications such as complementary therapies, they were found to be more likely to reject medical advice to undergo chemotherapy.

The researchers found: “Complementary and alternative therapy use among patients with breast cancer has increased in the past two decades. The most commonly used complementary and alternative therapies were dietary supplements and mind-body practices. On average, the women used two such therapies, although nearly 40 per cent of the women reported using three or more complementary and alternative therapies.

"Mind-body practices include practices such as yoga, meditation, qi gong, acupuncture, and massage. In the oncology setting, patients may use both dietary supplements and mind-body practices to relieve symptoms, for general health and wellness promotion, and to increase their sense of hope and control.

“Dietary supplements usage and a higher simultaneous use of multiple complementary and alternative therapies among women for whom chemotherapy was indicated were associated with a lower likelihood to initiate chemotherapy than nonusers, according to the results.”

The research expressed concerns that there is currently no evidence alternative therapies work: "To date, in the breast oncology setting the majority of dietary supplement interventions have not proven beneficial."

Complementary and alternative therapy use among patients with breast cancer has increased in the past two decades

&#13; <p>Columbia University research</p>&#13;

Researcher Professor Greenlee said: “Though the majority of women with clinically indicated chemotherapy initiated treatment, 11 per cent did not. A cautious interpretation of results may suggest to oncologists that it is beneficial to ascertain the use of complementary and alternative medicine therapy among their patients and to consider use of alternative treatment as a potential marker of patients at risk of not initiating clinically indicated chemotherapy.”

Dr Emma Smith, science information manager at Cancer Research UK, told The Independent: “It's every woman's right to choose whether or not to have chemotherapy as part of their breast cancer treatment. But in making their decision they shouldn't think of complementary and alternative therapies as a substitute for conventional cancer medicines. Treatments like chemotherapy, targeted drugs and radiotherapy have been researched in well-designed clinical trials and are proven to be effective for cancer patients.

“Although research has shown that some complementary treatments might help to improve quality of life, there is no evidence that they improve survival. Some may be harmful, and possibly interfere with conventional treatments like chemotherapy. If you are considering using complementary therapies it's important to speak to your doctor first to make sure it's safe.”

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