A study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology in November 2014 explored oncologists’ knowledge, attitudes, and practice patterns regarding the use of herbs and supplements by their patients, and found that while a large percentage of cancer patients utilize CAM, fewer than half of U.S. oncologists ever initiate discussions about the use of these products.
A large percentage of cancer patients use complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), including herbs and supplements, while undergoing treatment. However, fewer than half of US oncologists ever initiate discussions about the use of these products, according to the results of a study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, conducted by Dr. Richard Lee, medical director of the Integrative Medicine Program at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, in Houston, Texas, and his colleagues.
Dr. Lee and his colleagues conducted a study to explore oncologists' knowledge, attitudes, and practice patterns regarding the use of herbs and supplements by their patients. A survey was sent randomly to 1000 members of the American Society for Clinical Oncology; 392 responded and were included in the analysis. More than half (58%) of the respondents reported the use of CAM in their communities, and one third of the oncologists said that they had personally used CAM therapies in the previous year. In addition, most of the respondents (86%) reported treating at least one patient in the previous 12 months with chemotherapy who was concurrently using herbs/supplements.
When presented with a hypothetical patient with a potentially curable or incurable cancer, 90% of oncologists reported that they would likely provide chemotherapy, even if the patient insisted on using the unknown herb. A vast majority of oncologists (93%) reported being concerned about potential interactions between these products and ongoing treatments. Nonetheless, only 26% of oncologists initiated a discussion about the use of herbal products and supplements. In addition, more than half (59%) reported that they had not received any education about this topic. It is a lack of knowledge about this subject that acts as a barrier to initiating conversations with their patients, despite the fact that some herbal products can interact with cancer treatments.
"Given the high prevalence of herb/supplement use by patients and the potential for adverse interactions with some cancer treatments, future efforts should seek to improve oncologists' knowledge about herbs/supplements," conclude the authors. "Such efforts may lead to more open discussions with patients about this important topic, thereby improving patient care."
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