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J Oncol Pract. 2007 Nov;3(6):292-5. doi: 10.1200/JOP.0762001.

Prevalence and predictors of complementary therapy use in advanced-stage breast cancer patients.

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  • 1School of Nursing, Columbia University, New York, NY; Division of Preventive and Behavioral Medicine, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, MA; Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, Emory University, Atlanta, GA.



Information on the use of complementary therapies in patients with advanced-stage cancer is limited. Given the disease and treatment complexities associated with the care of patients with metastatic cancer, oncology clinicians would benefit from having an appreciation of the extent of usage of unconventional, adjunctive therapies among these patients. This study evaluated the prevalence and demographic predictors of complementary therapy use in a sample of women with metastatic breast cancer.


Subjects with stage IV breast cancer were recruited from six treatment facilities in New England. A written, mailed survey assessing complementary therapy use and sociodemographic information was completed by each subject, while disease and treatment information was obtained from medical records. Descriptive statistics and multivariate logistic regression analyses were conducted.


Of the 173 participants, 78% used at least one type of complementary therapy, 43% used two or more types, and 23% used three or more types, excluding spiritual practices and physical exercise. When including spiritual practices and physical exercise, 90% used at least one complementary therapy, 70% used two or more types, and 45% used three or more types. Visits to alternative health practitioners were predicted by younger age (P = .009) and higher education level (P = .002). Younger participants (P = .045) were more likely to use and spend more money on vitamins and herbal products (P = .02).


Use of unconventional therapies is pervasive among metastatic breast cancer patients, particularly among those who are younger and highly educated. Oncology providers need to assess patients' complementary therapy use and consider potential interactions with prescribed treatment protocols.

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