The use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) has been rapidly increasing among cancer patients. The aim of this study is to evaluate the prevalence and patterns of CAM use, particularly patients' intentions and their perceived effectiveness of using Chinese herbal medicine (CHM), as well as the relations between the herbal medicine use and demographic and clinical factors among Chinese women with breast cancer. We analyzed the data from a population-based sample of 1065 breast cancer women in urban Shanghai. Patients' average age at diagnosis was 48.1 years and the median time from the initial diagnosis to the follow-up survey was 4.3 years. Overall, 98% of patients had used at least one form of CAM therapy after diagnosis of breast cancer. The most popular CAM modality was traditional Chinese medicine (86.7%), followed by the use of supplements (84.8%), physical exercises (65.5%), and support group attendance (16.6%). CHM was used by 86.4% of patients, while acupuncture was used only by 4.9% of patients. Treating cancer (81.5%) was the most common intentions of using CHM. Other cited intentions included enhancing the immune system (12%), preventing metastasis of cancer or managing other discomforts (7.9%), and lessening menopausal symptoms (4.7%). The majority of patients reported that they had benefited from the use of CHM. Patients who were younger, married, had higher education or income, received chemotherapy or radiotherapy, or had recurrence/metastasis of cancer tended to use CHM more frequently than other patients. The relations between patient characteristics and use of CHMs varied with users' intentions. Given the high prevalence of CAM use among breast cancer patients, research is urgently needed to systematically evaluate the efficacy and safety of CAM use, particularly use of herbal medicines.
Copyright 2004 Kluwer Academic Publishers