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Pediatric Cancer Patients Turn to Alternative Therapies
Pediatric Cancer Patients Turn to Alternative Therapies

Nearly three quarters of pediatric cancer patients in western Washington state use alternative therapies to treat cancer or cope with side effects from standard medical treatments, according to research published in Prevention Medicine.

The bottom line is that the majority of pediatric cancer patients in western Washington 73 percent of those surveyed are using some form of alternative medicine or therapy. In addition, most patients and their families report substantial improvements in health and well-being as a result of using alternative medicine, said Marian Neuhouser, Ph.D., R.D., who led the study.

The study, the first population-based study in the U.S. to look at alternative medicine use in children with cancer, was conducted by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and supported by grants from the National Cancer Institute and funds from the Hutchinson Center. Researchers at Bastyr University in Kenmore, Washington, also consulted on the project.

The survey was based on telephone interviews with parents of 75 living pediatric cancer patients (ages 018 years) who had been first diagnosed with invasive cancer between February 1997 and December 1998. To streamline the survey process, the researchers collapsed the domains of alternative medicine into three subgroups: alternative providers (such as acupuncturists, massage therapists, naturopathic doctors, or homeopathic physicians); dietary supplements (vitamin, mineral, herbal or other supplements); and other therapies (diet or physical activity, mental and spiritual therapies, and energetic interventions).

The most pervasive form of alternative treatment among those surveyed was the use of herbal and high-dose vitamin supplements, which were used, respectively, by 54 percent and 59 percent of the patients, many of whom also used several such products simultaneously. While the data are conflicting about harm or benefit regarding use of these products among children undergoing cancer treatment, some caution may be advisable, Dr. Neuhouser said.

Among the findings: The vast majority 90 percent of such alternative providers and mental therapies were used to treat cancer symptoms or treatment side effects. About a third of alternative providers and dietary supplements were used to prevent recurrence or spread of the cancer. The most common alternative intervention, however, was the use of herbs and dietary supplements to promote general health and treat non-cancer conditions, such as colds.

Karen Robin