Page last updated at 23:17 GMT, Sunday, 26 April 2009 00:17 UK

Complementary therapies snubbed

Emma Wilkinson
Health reporter, BBC News

Vitamin pills
Vitamins were among the additional therapies used by cancer patients

Use of complementary therapies is "surprisingly" low among British cancer patients, a study suggests.

A survey of 200 patients in London found only one in five used alternative medicine and most of those did not think it would cure them.

Similar studies from the US had shown use was as high as 80%, the researchers at Hammersmith Hospital said.

The study also found patients have a high level of faith in their doctors and their treatment.

Study leader Professor Jonathan Waxman said because of the widespread publicity around complementary medicine he would have expected to see a much higher take up.

It's reassuring to see that the people surveyed seem to have quite a balanced realistic view of these therapies
Martin Ledwick, Cancer Research UK

Yet only 22% of people questioned - across a wide range of ages and cancer types - had supplemented their conventional treatments.

Among those who had tried alternative therapies, the most common were multivitamins, with selenium, omega-3 preparations and homeopathy also popular choices, the Quarterly Journal of Medicine reported.

Patients surveyed rarely spend more than £100 in total on complementary medicine and most of those who used it said it should be available on the NHS.

Of those using complementary therapies, 61% thought there was more evidence for conventional medicine and two-thirds thought that it would be conventional medicine that cured them.


Professor Waxman said the survey suggested cancer patients are realistic about the effectiveness of complementary medicine and actually place their trust in their doctor and their conventional treatment.

"We were surprised that only 20% were taking any complementary medicine but what was more interesting is that they didn't think it would work but took it anyway."

He said they also found that few patients told their doctor about any alternative medicines they took.

"I'm of the view that patients should do whatever makes them feel better but it is very important that they tell their doctor because there are a lot of complementary medicines that have specific bad effects.

"For example there are some chinese herbs that cause kidney failure.

Martin Ledwick, head of cancer information nurses at Cancer Research UK, said the study was quite small so it is hard to know whether it gives a true guide to complementary medicine use in the UK as a whole.

"But it's reassuring to see that the people surveyed seem to have quite a balanced realistic view of these therapies.

"It is essential that cancer patients have good, impartial information to help them make decisions about any aspect of their treatment, care, or how they cope with cancer."

Professor Edzard Ernst, an expert in complementary medicine at Peninsula Medical School, said studies had shown differing results on use of alternative therapies and much depended on how complementary medicine was defined.

"An interesting finding is that many patients seem to believe that complementary medicine offers a cure.

"This is the result of incessant misinformation via the internet and most other sources."

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