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A Whopping One-Third Of Cancer Patients Try Alternative Medicine Without Informing Their Doctors

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A University of Texas study revealed cancer patients are not only using complementary and alternative medicine. Almost 30 percent of them do so without telling their doctors, raising concerns about safety and efficacy. Some of the popular CAM treatments are herbal supplements, acupuncture, and chiropractic.  ( Antonika Chanel | Unsplash )

Cancer patients are not only trying complementary and alternative medicine. Many of them use it without their doctor's knowledge, a new study revealed.

Americans are indeed spending more money on CAMs. In 2012 alone, they paid more than $30 billion of out-of-pocket costs, as insurance usually doesn't cover many of the therapies.

These options are either the last-ditch effort to manage conditions with no approved medications or as a way of improving both prognosis and survival such as in cancer.

The reliance on CAMs, however, can potentially do more harm than good for these cancer patients, especially if they don't inform their physicians.

Preferred CAM Treatments

In the study, Dr. Nina Sanford, a radiation oncology assistant professor of UT Southwestern Medical Center, and her colleagues surveyed more than 3,000 past and present cancer patients about their use of CAMs.

About 1,000 of them said they tried them within the past 12 months.

Among the different therapies, herbal supplements were the most common. More than 35 percent of CAM users took them. Around 25 percent, meanwhile, considered chiropractic or osteopathic spinal or joint manipulation.

Fourteen percent tried massage, while 7.6 percent practiced yoga. The rest were into homeopathy, acupuncture, and special diets.

The study also revealed women were more likely to use CAMs than men, while younger cancer patients tend to do them than the older population.

What surprised the researchers, however, was the fact that 29 percent used CAMs without informing their doctor.

Keeping Doctors In The Dark

When asked why, patients said they felt their physicians didn't have to know or the doctors didn't inquire about them. Others, though, may do so as a form of control over their treatment plan.

The results of the survey were concerning for the researchers, especially with herbal supplements.

"Some of these supplements are kind of a mishmash of different things. Unless we know what's in them, I would recommend patients avoid using them during radiation because there's likely not data on certain supplements, which could interfere with treatment," said Dr. Sanford.

Higher levels of certain compounds may also increase toxicity. They may also render other conventional cancer treatments less effective.

Previous studies also revealed CAMs are no better than traditional medicine for cancer patients. In fact, it may increase their risk of premature death within five years.

Not Closing Doors

This isn't to say doctors are shutting their doors on CAM. Acupuncture, for example, may help ease pain, which is a common symptom of the disease. Yoga may also assist the patients in managing fatigue, stress, and side effects of the treatments.

They strongly encourage the patients not to keep their doctors in the dark to enhance the success of the treatment plan.

The study is published in JAMA Oncology.

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