In a group of studies involving 20,000 people, 51% of participants, all of whom had been diagnosed with cancer and were undergoing conventional treatment, also reported using Complementary and alternative medicine. (CAM) These include, Acupuncture, Animal-assisted therapy, Aromatherapy, Supplements, Massage therapy and Meditation. This should be viewed in contrast with studies of cancer patients in the 1970s and 1980s which found that only about 25% of people with cancer reported using CAM.

But not all of CAMs are safe or even effective, making it difficult for patients to make the best choice. Many may be unaware that there are alternatives to help manage the side effects of chemotherapy, for example. Patients that are interested may find themselves overwhelmed by the options available, but there is strong evidence to show that some alternative therapies can effectively ease cancer-related symptoms. Yoga, for example, has shown to relieve sleeplessness nausea and fatigue. From a study with 10,660 participating patients who had breast cancer, colorectal cancer, Leukemia, Lymphoma, lung cancer and others, “the yoga intervention was found to be beneficial and yielded positive effect on all the measures”

This growing popularity of CAM use has given rise to a new field called Integrative Oncology – which aims to incorporate complementary therapies combined with conventional treatments to help patients manage any side-effects and improve their quality of life. But, in a study conducted by Jama Oncology it found that about 30% of patients did not disclose to their doctor that they were using CAMs – the majority of reasons given were that the physician failed to ask, while many felt that their doctors did not need to know. Smaller percentages thought that they may get a negative reaction from the doctor or be discouraged, or that their doctor would not have any knowledge about the alternative therapy.

Whatever the reasons, patients and doctors need to work on their relationship. The onus is on the doctor to communicate the evidence-based options available to patients, regardless of whether or not it is a service they offer. But equally, patients need to be bold in their disclosure and have confidence in therapies that clearly make a difference to their pain and suffering and improve their quality of life.

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