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Attitudes, beliefs influence cancer patients’ use of alternative medicine: study

shutterstock_70177990.jpgA new study has shed light on how cancer patients’ attitudes and beliefs drive the use of complementary and alternative medicine. Published early online in Cancer, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, the findings may help hospitals develop more effective and accessible integrative oncology services for patients.


May 26, 2015
By Massage Therapy Canada staff

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Although many cancer patients use complementary and alternative
medicine, what drives this usage is unclear. To investigate, a team led
by medical doctors, Jun Mao and Joshua Bauml, of the Abramson Cancer
Center at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine,
conducted a survey-based study in their institution’s thoracic, breast
and gastrointestinal medical oncology clinics.

Among 969
participants surveyed between June 2010 and September 2011, patients who
were younger, female and had a college education tended to expect
greater benefits from complementary and alternative medicine. Nonwhite
patients reported more perceived barriers to the use of complementary
and alternative medicine compared with white patients, but their
expectations concerning the medicine’s benefits were similar. Attitudes
and beliefs about complementary and alternative medicine were much more
likely to affect patients’ use than clinical and demographic
characteristics, the research said.

“We found that specific
attitudes and beliefs – such as expectation of therapeutic benefits,
patient-perceived barriers regarding cost and access, and opinions of
patients’ physician and family members – may predict patients’ use of
complementary and alternative medicine following cancer diagnoses,” said
Mao.

“We also found that these beliefs and attitudes varied by
key socio-demographic factors, such as sex, race and education, which
highlights the need for a more individualized approach when clinically
integrating complementary and alternative medicine into conventional
cancer care.”

The researchers noted that as therapies such as
acupuncture, massage therapy and yoga continue to demonstrate clinical
benefits for reducing pain, fatigue and psychological distress, the
field of integrative oncology is emerging to bring complementary and
alternative medicine together with conventional care to improve patient
outcomes.

“Our findings emphasize the importance of patients’
attitudes and beliefs about complementary and alternative medicine as we
seek to develop integrative oncology programs in academic medical
centers and community hospitals,” said Bauml. “By aligning with
patients’ expectations, removing unnecessary structural barriers, and
engaging patients’ social and support networks, we can develop
patient-centered clinical programs that better serve diverse groups of
cancer patients regardless of sex, race and education levels.”


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