Original Article

Supportive Care in Cancer

, Volume 13, Issue 10, pp 806-811

First online:

Prevalence of complementary and alternative medicine use in cancer patients during treatment

  • Jennifer S. YatesAffiliated withJames P. Wilmot Cancer Center, University of RochesterUniversity of Rochester Cancer Center Email author 
  • , Karen M. MustianAffiliated withJames P. Wilmot Cancer Center, University of Rochester
  • , Gary R. MorrowAffiliated withJames P. Wilmot Cancer Center, University of Rochester
  • , Leslie J. GilliesAffiliated withJames P. Wilmot Cancer Center, University of Rochester
  • , Devi PadmanabanAffiliated withJames P. Wilmot Cancer Center, University of Rochester
  • , James N. AtkinsAffiliated withSoutheast Cancer Control Consortium
  • , Brian IssellAffiliated withCancer Research Center of Hawaii
  • , Jeffrey J. KirshnerAffiliated withSyracuse Hematology-Oncology CCOP
  • , Lauren K. ColmanAffiliated withNorthwest CCOP

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Goals of work

To assess complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies being utilized by cancer patients during treatment and communication about CAM usage between the patient and physician.

Patients and methods

Newly diagnosed cancer patients receiving chemotherapy or radiation therapy were recruited to complete a CAM survey within 2 weeks after the termination of treatment. Patients were queried on which CAM modalities they utilized and whether or not they were discussed with either their oncologist or primary care physician.

Main results

Of the patients surveyed, 91% reported using at least one form of CAM. The most widely used forms of CAM were prayer, relaxation and exercise. CAM users tended to be women chemotherapy patients with at least a high school education. Of the patients using CAM, 57% discussed the use of at least one of these therapies with their oncologist or primary care physician. The most frequent CAM modalities discussed with at least one physician were diets, massage, and herbal medicine.


An overwhelming proportion of cancer patients are using CAM, particularly prayer, relaxation, and exercise. However, patients may not discuss the use of CAMs at all or fully with their physician; if they do, it is most likely to be their oncologist, but not about the most frequently used CAMs. Future research needs to assess effective ways for oncologists to gather information about CAM usage by patients during allopathic treatment and discern ways these therapies may enhance or interfere with traditional cancer treatments.


Complementary medicine Quality of life Symptom management Behavioral medicine