“Complementary medicine” (CM) use linked to worse outcomes for cancer patients

Posted 23 July 2018

From a national database of more than 1.9 million patients, researchers identified 258 users of CM who were diagnosed with non-metastatic breast, prostate, lung, or colorectal cancer from 2004 through 2013. This group was compared to four times as many nonusers of CM who were similar in neighborhood of residence, age, stage of cancer, concurrent health problems, insurance type, race/ethnicity, year of diagnosis, and type of cancer. All patients in both groups had undergone chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgery, and/or hormone therapy. The modalities involved were herbs and botanicals; vitamins and minerals; probiotics; Ayurvedic medicine; traditional Chinese medicine; homeopathy and naturopathy; deep breathing; yoga; Tai Chi; Qi Gong; acupuncture; chiropractic or osteopathic manipulation; meditation; massage; prayer; special diets; progressive relaxation; and/or guided imagery. The findings included:

  • CM use was associated with higher stage of cancer, younger age, being female, having private insurance, higher socioeconomic status, higher income, and higher educational level. 
  • CM users were more likely than nonusers to refuse standard cancer therapies: (a) surgery [7.0% versus 0.1%], (b) chemotherapy [34.1% versus 3.2%], (c) radiation [53.0% versus 2.3%], and (d) hormone therapy [33.7% versus 2.8%]. 
  • CM users were estimated to have a 1.50 to 2.90 times greater risk of dying, which appeared to be due to the refusal or delay of standard treatment. 
  • Among patients who received only standard treatment, the survival rates were higher for breast cancers (90.4% vs 84.4%), slightly higher for colorectal cancers (84.4% vs 81.4%), and similar for prostate and lung cancers.

Reference: Johnson SB and others. Complementary medicine, refusal of conventional cancer therapy, and survival among patients with curable cancers. JAMA Oncology, July 19, 2018. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2018.2487

Source: Consumer Health Digest #18-29 July 22, 2018

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