Cancer patients trust nontraditional therapies, unaware of risks

  • ESMO 2018

  • Yael Waknine
  • Clinical Essentials
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  • Patients with sarcoma are quite open to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), but often obtain information online and are poorly informed of safety issues and risk for drug-drug interactions.
  • Study findings, to be presented at ESMO 2018, suggest that oncologists should strive to preserve their role as a primary source of information.

Why this matters

  • “When we looked at the sources of information on non-conventional practices, oncologists represented only 7%. In our study, patients mentioned repetitively that they were positively surprised about our interest in their use of CAMs,” study supervisor Peter Hohenberger, MD, said in an ESMO news release, adding that patients were more likely to consult oncologists for help with CAM side effects.

Study design

  • Structured survey administered over a 4-month period to 325 outpatients with biopsy-proven sarcoma (59%), gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST; 23%), or desmoid tumors (18%) at University Hospital Mannheim, Germany.
  • Various CAM types and modes were addressed, including vitamin/mineral supplements, Chinese/healing herbs, homeopathy, acupuncture, meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, and special diets.
  • Funding: EU-FP7 EUROSARC.

Key results

  • Mean age, 53 years; 50% of respondents were women, 47% were men (no data, 3%).
  • 35% had long been interested in CAM, and 44% gained interest following cancer diagnosis.
  • Popular sources of information included the Internet/other media (43%), friends (15%), and health professionals (14%; oncologists, 7%).
  • 60% of respondents acknowledged inadequate knowledge of CAM side effects and potential drug interactions.
  • Patients using CAM were more likely to consult oncologists when side effects occurred.
  • 51% of sarcoma patients reported CAM in their lifetime; of these:
    • 15% used CAM only during cancer treatment.
    • 12% used CAM just before diagnosis.
    • 24% are currently using naturopathic medicine.
  • Top reasons for CAM use: for immune system boost (78%), and to strengthen the body’s powers (76%), reduce tension/stress (54%), leave nothing unattempted (53%), and alleviate side effects (37%).
  • Female patients were more likely than males to use CAM.
  • Among current users, traditional Chinese medicine and homeopathic approaches were equally popular (32% each). 


  • Self-reported data.