Use of complementary and alternative medicine and prayer among a national sample of cancer survivors compared to other populations without cancer

Jun J Mao, John T Farrar, Sharon X Xie, Marjorie A Bowman, Katrina Armstrong
Complementary Therapies in Medicine 2007, 15 (1): 21-9

OBJECTIVES: Extensive use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) among cancer survivors has been described in literature, but the rate has not previously been compared to other groups in a true population sample.

METHODS: We performed a cross-sectional study using data from the 2002 National Health Interview Survey to determine the prevalence of CAM and prayer for health (PFH) use among cancer survivors and compared the rates of such use among cancer survivors with the US general and other chronic diseased populations while controlling for key socio-demographic factors.

RESULTS: Among 31,044 adult survey respondents, 1904 had a prior cancer diagnosis, of whom 40% reported CAM and 62% reported PFH use during the year before the survey. The top three CAM modalities were herbs (20%), deep breathing (14%) and meditation (9%). Controlling for other factors, cancer survivors used more CAM than the general population (adjusted odds ratio [OR] 1.36, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.20-1.53), but similar to those with chronic symptomatic illness (p=0.5). Cancer survivors used PFH more than the general population (OR 1.87, 95% CI 1.66-2.10) and all other groups (p<0.001). The greater CAM and PFH use by cancer survivors was seen in both recent and distant diagnoses (>10 years).

CONCLUSION: A previous cancer diagnosis is associated with a modest increase in CAM use compared with the general population but similar to other chronic symptomatic illnesses; however, cancer survivors are more likely to pray for health than all other populations. Exploring CAM and prayer use in clinical settings may help clinicians better understand the needs of their patients.

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