Chemo and Alternative Medicine

At last! A study that proves complementary and alternative medicine can work.

Those women with early-stage breast cancer that had used dietary supplements and multiple types of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), were less likely to start chemotherapy than nonusers of CAM, according to a new study that was published online by Jama Oncology.  Despite the survival benefits associated with adjutant treatment for breast cancer, not all women initiate the treatment.  The decision to use chemotherapy involves psychosocial factors, belief systems, clinical, demographic and provider characteristics.  Patients with breast cancer showed an increased use of CAMs in the past two decades, but few studies have evaluated how CAM use affects decisions regarding chemotherapy.

Coauthors and Heather Greenlee, N.D., Ph.D., of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, New York, have studied a group of 685 women with early-stage breast cancer who were recruited from multiple sites.  Their participants were younger than 70 with non-metastatic invasive breast cancer.  Five types of CAM were included as vitamins and /or minerals, herbs and/or botanicals, other natural products, mind-body self-practice and mind-body practitioner-based practice.  A CAM index summarizing the number of types of CAM was used.

There were 306 women clinically indicated to receive chemotherapy based on guidelines, and the rest of the women were considered to have a discretionary recommendation for chemotherapy.  Most of the women (272 or 89%) were by 12 months indicated for initiated treatment of chemotherapy.  The women for whom chemotherapy was discretionary had a much lower rate of initiation of 36% (135 women).

Of the 598 women participants (or 87%), they reported CAM use at baseline.  Types of common CAM that were used were dietary supplements and mind-body practices.  The average number of CAM modalities used was two and 261 women, or 38%, reported using three or more types of CAM.

The use of dietary supplements and a higher CAM index score among women for whom chemotherapy was indicated were associated with a lower likelihood to initiate chemotherapy than the nonusers.  There was no association between starting chemotherapy and CAM use among women for whom chemotherapy was discretionary.

It is noted that it is important to consider possible alternative explanations for their findings and it is unclear if the association between CAM use and chemotherapy non-initiation reflects long-standing decision-making patterns among the study participants.  Results may suggest to oncologists that it might be beneficial to ascertain CAM use among their patients, especially dietary supplement use, and to consider CAM use as a potential marker of patients at risk of not initiating clinically indicated chemotherapy.

Doesn’t it make much more sense to build the body up to its healthy potential before even considering chemotherapy that delivers poison to your body?  Remember, the decision is in the individual’s own hands.  The suggestion of chemotherapy does not have to be your first choice.

–Dr Fredda Branyon