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Cancer. 1991 Mar 15;67(6 Suppl):1788-92.

Alternative therapies, 1990. An overview.

Author information

  • DeKalb Medical Center, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA.


The availability of alternative therapies for many health problems is a well-documented historical fact. Alternative therapies are generally understood to be those therapies outside of the usually accepted medical therapies for disease processes, such as cancer, arthritis, diabetes, psoriasis, lupus, and AIDS. Some other descriptive terms utilized include questionable, unproven, dubious, unorthodox, and unconventional. These alternative therapies vary from active involvement in promotion of one's own health (exercise, diet) to quackery. In today's society, with emphasis on self-involvement with individual health, metabolic therapies have become the most widely practiced alternative therapy. In an antiestablishment, anti-intellectual climate, with an increasingly mobile, rootless population, alternative therapies are in somewhat of a renaissance. Some confusion exists regarding clinical trials and alternative therapies in the general population and in the noninvolved health profession. Various studies indicate that from 10% to 50% of cancer patients use some alternative therapy, with national expenditures ranging as high as $10 billion annually. Better-educated patients with higher-than-average income are more likely to choose alternative therapies and are frequently supported by a physician in this choice. Most cancer patients continue under a physician's care and continue usual therapy while pursuing alternative methods. Approximately 5% of cancer patients abandon appropriate therapy and pursue potentially harmful alternative methods. A variety of sociomedical questions are brought forth by studies of the use of alternative therapies. A great need for public and professional education regarding this subject is evident.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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