A third of cancer patients turn to alternative medicine – but many do not tell their doctor

A third of cancer patients turn to alternative medicine – but many do not tell their doctor

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A third of cancer patients turn to herbal supplements and meditation – but many do not tell their doctor, study finds

  • Of 3,100 cancer patients, 33 percent told University of Texas researchers they incorporated complementary medicine into their treatment plan
  • 29 percent of them said they did not tell their doctor about it
  • Experts say there should be policies that force doctors to discuss complementary medicine  

A third of US cancer patients use complementary or alternative medicine, but many do not tell their doctor, according to a new study.   

Of 3,100 patients, 33 percent told University of Texas researchers they incorporated meditation, herbal supplements or even special diets into their treatment program of their own volition. 

And 29 percent of them said they kept it a secret from their doctor – either because they didn’t want to disclose it, or their doctor didn’t ask. 

Lead author Nina Sanford, MD, said there should be policies that make it compulsory for doctors to discuss complementary medicines with cancer patients so they can better advise and treat them.

Dealing with life-threatening diseases, it's common for doctors to get slightly shirty at the mention of a diet or supplement with barely any research to back it up - particularly if it comes with over-hyped, false claims that it could 'cure' the disease

Dealing with life-threatening diseases, it’s common for doctors to get slightly shirty at the mention of a diet or supplement with barely any research to back it up – particularly if it comes with over-hyped, false claims that it could ‘cure’ the disease

While there is no complementary medicine that works to cure or treat cancer, some may offer other benefits that boost mental health or relieve pain. 

But some, particularly methods promoted online as ‘miracle cures’, could be very dangerous.

‘A lot of complementary or alternative medicine is potentially very helpful, like mindfulness or meditation – those are things we would recommend anyway,’ Dr Sanford, assistant professor of Radiation Oncology at UT Southwestern Medical Center, told DailyMail.com.

‘But other things could be detrimental, like supplements or special diets.

‘It’s important for a physician to know everything their patient is doing so they can counsel them and find ways to safely integrate those into their care.’

The glaring issue is that oncologists are not typically trained in complementary or alternative medicines. 

Dealing with life-threatening diseases, it’s common for doctors to get slightly shirty at the mention of a diet or supplement with barely any research to back it up – particularly if it comes with over-hyped, false claims that it could ‘cure’ the disease. 

Doctors also have limited time, an overflow of patients, and plenty of logistical information to get through, which creates a perfect cocktail for tension. 

‘Physicians have to cover a lot in frequently short visits, so asking about complementary or alternative medicine is not part of the standard of care,’ Sanford explains.

But a growing swell of research shows that gap between mainstream and complementary medicine needs to be bridged.

According to a recent study by Yale University researchers, cancer patients who try complementary or alternative medicine are more likely to abandon mainstream treatment such as chemotherapy, which could raise their risk of death.  

Dr Cary Gross, lead author of the Yale study, told DailyMail.com in July, when the study came out: ‘Physicians’ lack of comfort discussing these alternative therapies, and lack of knowledge about them, perpetuates the feeling among patients that they cannot discuss it with their doctor for fear of feeling belittled or ignorant. 

‘Too many think that doctors are just working for Big Pharmaceutical companies and are more focused about profits than their comfort.

‘We need to work out why these things help cancer patients feel better, and to be open to discussing that.’

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