Aims: Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) use is known to be on the rise in cancer patients, and some CAMs are known to interact with conventional cancer treatments. The aim of this study was to provide current estimates of CAM use in cancer patients at an Australian tertiary centre, and to identify the proportion of patients at risk of CAM-drug interactions. The study was also designed to provide information on clinician-patient communication regarding CAM use.
Methods: 204 adult cancer patients recruited from the Department of Oncology at St Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne, completed a 37-item questionnaire. Questions covered topics such as patient demographics, CAM use details, CAM information sources and clinician-patient communication in relation to CAM use. Descriptive statistics were used to summarise study data, and chi-square tests, logistic regression and likelihood ratio testing were used to identify demographic and clinical predictors of CAM use.
Results: 51.5% of participants had used CAM within the preceding six months (48.5% when prayer/spiritual practices were excluded). Predictors of CAM use were female gender (p <0.05), tertiary level education (p <0.001) and use of CAM prior to cancer diagnosis (p <0.001). Most frequently used CAM was nutritional supplements (e.g. vitamins, minerals, antioxidants), with the most common reason being to improve general wellbeing. At least 16.7% of participants using concurrent biologically active CAM and conventional cancer treatment were at potential risk of a detrimental drug-CAM interaction. 77.1% of participants reported that no member of their cancer treatment team had ever asked if they were using CAM.
Conclusions: Utilisation of CAM is prevalent amongst oncology patients, yet discussions regarding CAM use between clinicians and their patients are limited. Health professionals and patients should be encouraged to actively engage in discussions about CAM in order to avoid adverse drug-CAM interactions and to optimise patient outcomes.