Complementary and alternative medicine use among cancer survivors: a population-based study



The use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) among cancer survivors is high, yet less is known about reasons behind such use or the communication of CAM with conventional medical providers.


Cross-sectional, multivariate logistic regression models were developed to evaluate the similarities and differences between cancer survivors and non-cancer controls in the 2007 National Health Interview Survey with 23,393 participants, including 1,471 cancer survivors.


Among cancer survivors, 66.5% reported ever using CAM and 43.3% having used CAM in the past year. When compared with the general population, cancer survivors used CAM more often for general disease prevention, immune enhancement, and for pain (Adjusted Odds Ratio [AOR] 1.27, 95% Confidence Interval [CI] 1.10–1.48; AOR 1.32, 95% CI 1.05–1.62; AOR 1.42, 95% CI 1.05–1.92, respectively). Cancer survivors were more likely to use CAM because of recommendations from their provider (AOR 1.54, 95% CI 1.26–1.88) and were more likely to disclose their CAM use to their provider (AOR 1.45, 95% CI 1.22–1.72).


When compared to the general population, cancer survivors were more likely to use CAM and communicate this use with providers, indicating a growing integration of CAM in conventional medical care.

Implications for Cancer Survivors

Cancer survivors are more likely than the general population to communicate CAM use with providers, suggesting greater integration of CAM use in conventional care. However, the majority of CAM use is still not being communicated to providers, indicating an important area for improvement in patient-centered care.

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Disclosure of interests

Dr. Mao is supported by a K23 AT004112 grant from National Institutes of Health and a CCCDA-08-107 grant from the American Cancer Society. The funding agencies had no role in the design and conduct of the study.

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Correspondence to Jun James Mao or Christina Shearer Palmer.

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All authors are responsible for the design and conduct of the study; collection, management, analysis, and interpretation of the data; and preparation, review, and approval of the manuscript. Dr. Mao had full access to all of the data in the study and takes responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis.

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Mao, J.J., Palmer, C.S., Healy, K.E. et al. Complementary and alternative medicine use among cancer survivors: a population-based study. J Cancer Surviv 5, 8–17 (2011).

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  • Complementary therapies
  • Clinical oncology
  • Communication