I have written a number of times about complementary therapies (CAM) and breast cancer. In my experience, many, if not most, women at least consider adding a complementary therapy to their western medical cancer treatments. If one includes psychotherapy and support groups in this context, the percentage is even larger. In my experience, the most common therapy used is acupuncture, and many report benefits in terms of overall sense of well being as well as reduction in fatigue and nausea from chemotherapy. As you know, there is concern about oncologists about any thing that you ingest--meaning dietary supplements, herbs, high dose vitamins. The strong recommendation is always to talk about your plans with your doctor and be prepared to wait until treatment is over before beginning to take herbs etc.
This is a really interesting article from Complementary Therapies in Medicine that takes a prospective look at who uses CAM before a cancer diagnosis. The question was whether these people would experience a lower sense of distress and a better quality of life; that is, would they somehow be already predisposed to handle the stress of a serious illness better than others. Here is the summary and then a link:
Evaluating the impact of cancer on complementary
and alternative medicine use, distress and health
related QoL among Australian women: A prospective
L.J. Beattya, J. Adamsb, D. Sibbritt, T.D. Wadea
Objectives: While several cross-sectional studies have examined psychological correlates of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) use and cancer, few prospective longitudinal investigations have been reported. This study examined whether CAM use moderated distress
and quality of life (HRQoL) from pre- to post-cancer.
Design: A prospective longitudinal national cohort design.
Setting: Participants were 718 mid-aged women from the Australian longitudinal study on women's health who did not have cancer at survey 1, but who subsequently developed cancer. For each participant, three waves of data were extracted: the wave prior to diagnosis ('pre'), at diagnosis ('cancer'), and after cancer ('post').
Main outcome measures: CAM use was measured by the question 'in the past 12 months have you consulted an alternative health practitioner'. Distress was measured by perceived stress (PSS) and depression (CES-D 10), HRQoL was measured by physical and mental health functioning
Results: CAM use significantly moderated the change over time in stress [F(561) = 3.09, p = 0.04], depression [F(494) = 3.14, p = 0.04], but not HRQoL. CAM-users were significantly more stressed than non-users pre-cancer (p < 0.05), but there were no significant differences at subsequent
surveys. CAM-users were significantly less depressed post-cancer compared to non-users (p < 0.05).
Conclusions: Findings indicated that CAM users may be more psychologically vulnerable than non-users with respect to stress, with CAM acting as an effective psychological, but not HRQoL, intervention.