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Herbal use among cancer patients during palliative or curative chemotherapy treatment in Norway

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Goals of work

This survey aims to explore the differences between cancer patients undergoing chemotherapeutic treatment with palliative or curative intention with respect to concurrent herbal use, experiences of adverse effects, motives of herbal intake, and communication about herbal use with health care providers.

Materials and methods

One hundred and twelve adult cancer patients from the west coast of Central Norway, currently undergoing chemotherapeutic treatment, were recruited to a cross-sectional descriptive survey.

Main results

Palliative and curative patients used herbal remedies concurrent with chemotherapy equally frequent (37% and 38%). One palliative patient reported adverse effects when doubling the dose of injected mistletoe used. Garlic was only used by palliative patients (p = 0.009) who also tended to have a more frequent everyday herbal use (78% vs 67%, respectively) than curative patients (p = 0.075). Curative patients, however, used herbal remedies more often to counteract adverse reactions (31% vs 3%, respectively; p = 0.026). A bivariate logistic regression, which was adjusted for age, showed that palliative patients used herbal remedies more frequently to improve their immune system (adjusted OR = 7.5, 95% CI = 1.1–49.7).


This is the first survey comparing concurrent herbal use between cancer patients undergoing palliative or curative chemotherapy. Both groups frequently use herbal remedies concurrent with chemotherapy, but with a slightly different intent. The frequent concurrent use emphasizes the need for clinicians to include questions on complementary and alternative medicine in routine history taking and for further studies on possible herb–drug interactions among the cancer patient.

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We wish to thank the nurses and patients at the Department of Oncology at Sunnmøre Public Hospital Enterprise, Ålesund Ward and Volda Ward. This research was founded by the Norwegian Cancer Society.

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Correspondence to Silje Engdal.

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Engdal, S., Steinsbekk, A., Klepp, O. et al. Herbal use among cancer patients during palliative or curative chemotherapy treatment in Norway. Support Care Cancer 16, 763–769 (2008).

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