, Volume 16, Issue 2, pp 155-160

Use of unconventional methods of therapy by cancer patients in Pakistan

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Abstract

Most of the studies related to the use of unconventional methods of therapy by cancer patients have been carried out in the developed countries. This study was conducted to ascertain the frequency, type, and duration of use of unconventional methods of therapy by cancer patients in Pakistan. We also wanted to identify individuals who are most likely to use these methods and to compare the findings with those reported from the developed countries. Between 1 April and 30 May 1994, all patients with histologically proven cancer who visited the oncology unit were interviewed. A printed questionnaire with questions and options was used as an interview guide. Informed consent was obtained. One hundred and ninety-one patients were interviewed, on average, for 25 minutes each. Use of unconventional methods of therapy by cancer patients was widespread (54.5% of all patients). The majority (83.7%) were influenced by family members to use these methods. Traditional herbal medicines (70.2%) and homeopathy (64.4%) were the most commonly employed methods. Thirty-six percent of the users employed these methods before receiving any conventional therapy. Only 15% used these methods after conventional therapeutic options had been exhausted. Patients generally perceived these methods as useful, non-toxic and inexpensive. Age, marital status, socio-economic background, education level and status of underlying neoplasm did not influence the frequency of use of unconventional methods. The use, however, was influenced by gender, family size, and type of underlying malignancy. Patients aware of their diagnosis were less likely to use these methods. This study suggests that use of unconventional methods by cancer patients in Pakistan is widespread. Unlike western countries, these methods are often employed before receiving any conventional therapy. This probably results in a significant delay which can be expected to adversely influence the subsequent disease management and survival. Public education, reduction of cost and easy availability of conventional therapy may be helpful in reducing the use of methods which otherwise may have no proven value.