Use of Complementary and Alternative Medicine Common in Pediatric Cancer Patients

The landscape of medicine has been dramatically changing over the past several decades. A survey published in 1994 revealed that over 60% of medical doctors from a variety of specialties recommended CAM to their patients at least once. In addition, 47% of the same doctors reported using CAM themselves. In 1997, Americans spent more than $27 billion on CAM therapies, exceeding out-of-pocket spending for all U.S. hospitalizations. In 1998, the Journal of the American Medical Association published an article in which CAM use by the general public was found to have increased from 34% in 1990 to 42% in 1997. A small study published in the February 2000 issue of Cancer indicated that of 46 patients with prostate cancer, 37% used one or more CAM therapies as part of their cancer treatment. The Journal of Clinical Oncology followed in July 2000 with an article noting that 83% of 453 cancer patients with different types of cancer used at least one CAM therapy as part of their cancer treatment. Even excluding spiritual or psychotherapy practices, 69% of patients reported using at least one CAM therapy in their cancer treatment. That same year, the Journal of Clinical Oncology published another study finding that 67% of over 400 breast cancer survivors reported using one or more CAM therapies. Although the prevalence of CAM use has been established for some adult cancers, its prevalence in pediatric cancer is unknown.

This review evaluated 28 studies involving 3,526 children with cancer. The prevalence of CAM use ranged from 6-91% in 20 of the studies with the most common CAM strategies including herbal supplements, diet/nutrition, and faith healing.

  • 2-48% used herbal remedies.
  • 3-47% used diet/nutrition strategies.
  • 2-19% used megavitamins.

These researchers concluded that many children with cancer utilize CAM. With the myriad of CAM therapies available, it is often difficult and overwhelming to determine which, if any, may be appropriate. Because of the potential for interaction between CAM therapies and conventional medical treatments, it is extremely important for a patient to consult with their oncologist and other attendant healthcare professionals about CAM therapies they currently use or are considering using. While information regarding interactions is limited, it is crucial that the information available be utilized. For example, some data suggest that certain CAM therapies may interfere with specific chemotherapy agents or cause dangerous side effects when used concurrently.