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Integr Cancer Ther. 2008 Sep;7(3):122-9.

Disclosure to physicians of CAM use by breast cancer patients: findings from the Women's Healthy Eating and Living Study.

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Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, Moores UCSD Cancer Center, Cancer Prevention and Control, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093-0901, USA.



Physician awareness of their patients' use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is crucial, particularly in the setting of a potentially life-threatening disease such as cancer. The potential for harmful treatment interactions may be greatest when a patient sees a CAM practitioner--perceived as a physician-like authority figure--but does not disclose this to their physician. Therefore, this study investigated the extent of nondisclosure in a large cohort of cancer patients.


CAM use in participants of the UCSD Women's Healthy Eating and Living (WHEL) Study, a multicenter study of the effect of diet and lifestyle on disease-free and overall survival in women aged 18-70 years who had completed treatment for invasive breast cancer between 1995 and 2000, is investigated. Data regarding CAM use and disclosure were collected via a telephone-administered questionnaire in 2003-2004. This questionnaire asked about different CAM modalities, including those requiring a "skilled CAM practitioner" (acupuncturist, chiropractor, homeopath, or naturopath) for administration. Demographic data were obtained at the WHEL baseline clinic interview. Modality-specific disclosure rates were determined and a comparison of demographic variables of disclosers versus nondisclosers was conducted using 2 tests for categorical variables, and t tests for continuous variables.


Of 3088 total WHEL participants, 2527 completed the CAM questionnaire. Of these, 2017 reported using some form of CAM. Of these, 300 received treatment from an acupuncturist, chiropractor, homeopath, or naturopath and also provided information on whether or not they disclosed this care to their conventional physician. The highest disclosure rate was for naturopathy (85%), followed by homeopathy (74%), acupuncture (71%), and chiropractic (47%). Among demographic characteristics, only education (P=.047) and study site (P=.039) were associated with disclosure. College graduates and postgraduates, in particular, were more likely to disclose CAM use to their physicians than those with lesser education.


Overall, moderately high rates of physician disclosure of CAM use for all modalities except chiropractic were observed. Education and study site associations suggest that disclosure may be greater when CAM use is more prevalent and possibly more socially accepted. These findings underscore the importance of open, destigmatized patient--physician communication regarding CAM use.

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