Skip to main content

Biologically based complementary and alternative medicine use among breast cancer survivors: relationship to dietary fat consumption and exercise


Previous literature has shown that more than half of all female cancer survivors use some form of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Although the prevalence of CAM use in this population is becoming apparent, few researchers have examined the relationship between CAM use and lifestyle factors that could influence patients’ well-being. The present study examined whether breast cancer survivors who use biologically based CAM are more likely than CAM nonusers to follow a low-fat diet and maintain moderate or vigorous exercise. Sixty-five female breast cancer survivors who were within 3 months of completing primary treatment were recruited. CAM use was measured by self-reported use of one or more of a list of 15 supplements. Dietary fat was measured by a 23-item self-report measure estimating fat consumption in the past month. Dietary fat stage of change and moderate and vigorous exercise stage of change were assessed using measures based on the Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change. Results showed that biologically based CAM users maintained a lower percentage of calories from fat in their diet (t=2.12, p<0.05), and there was a trend for CAM users to be more likely than CAM nonusers to be in the action or maintenance stage for dietary fat consumption (p<0.09). However, this study did not find that CAM users were more likely to be in the action or maintenance stage of change for moderate or vigorous exercise. These findings suggest that biologically based CAM use among breast cancer survivors is associated with some, but not all, healthy lifestyle behaviors.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. Ashikaga T, Bosompra K, O’Brien P, Nelson L (2002) Use of complementary and alternative medicine by breast cancer patients: prevalence, patterns and communication with physicians. Support Care Cancer 10(7):542–548

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Lee MM, Lin SS, Wrensch MR, Adler SR, Eisenberg D (2000) Alternative therapies used by women with breast cancer in four different ethnic groups. J Natl Cancer Inst 92:42–47

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  3. Richardson MA, Sanders T, Palmer JL, Greisenger A, Singletoy SE (2000) Complementary/alternative medicine use in a comprehensive cancer center and the implications for oncology. J Clin Onc 18:2505–2514

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  4. Balneaves LG, Kristjanson LJ, Tataryn D (1999) Beyond convention: describing complementary therapy use by women living with breast cancer. Patient Educ Couns 38:143–153

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  5. Lengacher CA, Bennett MP, Kip KE, Keller R, LaVance MS, Smith LS, Cox CE (2002) Frequency of use of complementary and alternative medicine in women with breast cancer. Oncol Nurs Forum 29(10):1445–1452

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Cassileth BR, Burlyne D (1989) Counseling the cancer patient who wants to try unorthodox or questionable therapies. Oncology 3(4):29–33

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  7. Söllner W, Maislinger S, DeVries A, Steixner E, Rumpold G, Lukas P (2000) Use of complementary and alternative medicine by cancer patients is not associated with perceived distress or poor compliance with standard treatment but with active coping behavior. Cancer 89(4):873–880

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Cassileth BR, Deng G (2004) Complementary and alternative therapies for cancer. Oncologist 9:80–89

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Shen J, Andersen R, Albert PS, Wenger N, Glaspy G et al (2002) Use of complementary/alternative therapies by women with advanced-stage breast cancer. BMC Complement Altern Med 2:2–8

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Jacobson JS, Workman SB, Kronenberg F (2000) Research on complementary/alternative medicine for patients with breast cancer: a review of the biomedical literature. J Clin Onc 18(3):668–683

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. Rosenbaum E, Gautier H, Fobair P, Neri E, Festa B et al (2004) Cancer supportive care, improving the quality of life for cancer patients. Support Care Cancer 12:293–301

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM; 2006). Biologically based practices: an overview. Retrieved January 3, 2006 from

  13. Greene G, Rossi S, Fava JL, Velicer WP, Laforge RG, Willey C, Rossi JS (1996) Relationship between dietary intake and behavior questionnaire. Ann Behav Med 18:S188

    Google Scholar 

  14. McBride CM, Clipp E, Peterson BL, Lipkus IM, Demark-Wahneried W (2000) Psychological impact of diagnosis and risk reduction among cancer survivors. Psycho-oncology 9(5):418–427

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  15. Marcus BH, Rossi JS, Selby VC, Niaura RS, Abrams DB (1992) The stages and processes of exercise adoption and maintenance in a worksite sample. Health Psychol 11:386–395

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  16. Rabin C, Pinto B (2006) Cancer-related beliefs and health behavior change among breast cancer survivors and their first-degree relatives. Psycho-oncology (in press)

  17. Crespo CJ, Keteyian SJ, Heath GW, Sempos CT (1996) Leisure-time physical activity among US adults. Results from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Arch Intern Med 156(1):93–98

    PubMed  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  18. Weiger WA, Smith M, Boon H, Richardson MA, Kaptchuk TJ, Eisenberg DM (2002) Advising patients who seek complementary and alternative medical therapies for cancer. Ann Intern Med 137(11):889–903

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

Download references


This study was funded by the NCI (CA97639 to Dr. Rabin).

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Mary C. Politi.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Politi, M.C., Rabin, C. & Pinto, B. Biologically based complementary and alternative medicine use among breast cancer survivors: relationship to dietary fat consumption and exercise. Support Care Cancer 14, 1064–1069 (2006).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Complementary and alternative medicine
  • Breast cancer
  • Health behaviors