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Oncologists’ experiences of discussing complementary and alternative treatment options with their cancer patients. A qualitative analysis

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The rising use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) means oncologists are increasingly asked by patients to discuss CAM treatment options. However, no formal training or established standards are available on the subject. The aim of this paper was to investigate real-world discussions of CAM treatments. In particular, we wanted to learn about the values, norms and defining features that characterise oncologist-patient discussions on CAM.


Semi-standardised interviews with 17 oncologists were analysed using interpretation pattern analysis combined with thematic analysis.


Advice on CAM is seen by oncologists as an important service they provide to their patients, even though their knowledge of the subject is often limited. Many interviewees mentioned an apparent lack of scientific proof, especially when their aim was to warn patients against the use of CAM. Discussions on CAM tend to reflect the idea that CAM belongs ‘to another world’, and judging by the interviews with oncologists, this notion appears to be shared by patients and oncologists alike.


Oncologists require reliable information on CAM and would profit from training in the communication of CAM treatment options to patients. Knowing scientific data on CAM would also lower barriers stemming from the view that CAM belongs ‘to another world’. Under- and postgraduate education programmes should include training on how to respond to requests addressing possible CAM options.

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We would like to express our gratitude to Astrid Yamazoe who helped Corina Güthlin to code the interviews and to express our findings in English. We would also like to sincerely thank Phillip Elliott who translated the quotations and edited the final English version.

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Correspondence to Güthlin Corina.

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This study was part of a larger research network called KOKON. KOKON was funded by the Deutsche Krebshilfe (DKH, No. 109863).

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The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

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Corina, G., Christine, H. & Klein, G. Oncologists’ experiences of discussing complementary and alternative treatment options with their cancer patients. A qualitative analysis. Support Care Cancer 24, 3857–3862 (2016).

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