Supportive Care in Cancer

, Volume 19, Issue 1, pp 67–80 | Cite as

Trick or treat? Australian newspaper portrayal of complementary and alternative medicine for the treatment of cancer

  • Reegan Mercurio
  • Jaklin Ardath EliottEmail author
Original Article



Many cancer patients within developed nations cite the media as informing their decisions to use complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). The present study describes (1) Australian newspaper coverage of CAM use for cancer between 1998 and 2007; (2) trends in reporting frequency and characteristics; and (3) how the Australian press framed stories on CAM use for cancer.

Materials and methods

This study is a content analysis featuring quantitative and qualitative techniques, the latter guided by ‘media framing’, of targeted newspaper articles.


One hundred nineteen articles focused on CAM use for the treatment of cancer were identified. Quantitative analysis found that biologically based CAMs were most frequently described and breast cancer most mentioned. Two thirds of all articles described CAM use in the context of a cure, with approximately half of these opposing this reason for use. Potential benefits of CAM were discussed more frequently than potential risks, and information on costs and how to access CAM were uncommon. Recommendations included advice to use complementary, not alternative therapies, yet advice to discuss CAM with a medical doctor was rare. Qualitative analysis found six CAM cancer-related frames, four in support of CAM use for cancer treatment. The dominant frame constructed CAM as legitimate tools to assist biomedicine (even to cure), with others depicting CAM as normal and necessary or as addressing limitations of biomedicine. Negative frames depicted CAM as questionable and risky practices and the industry/practitioners as possessing malevolent intent.


These findings have implications for biomedical practitioners attempting to determine, respect and assist patient choices about their treatment.


Media Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) Cancer Australia Frame analysis Mixed methods 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of PsychologyThe University of AdelaideAdelaideAustralia
  2. 2.Cancer Council AustraliaAdelaideAustralia

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