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Prevalence of complementary and alternative medicine use among a population of head and neck cancer patients: A survey-based study

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October 1, 2010
by Matthew C. Miller, MD, Edmund A. Pribitkin, MD, Tara Difabio, RN, CORLN, and William M. Keane, MD


We sought to determine the prevalence and patterns of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) use among head and neck cancer patients who were being treated at an academic otolaryngology practice in the northeastern United States from January 2005 through December 2006. During a 3-month period, we conducted an anonymous survey of 213 new and established patients regarding their use of CAM during their cancer treatment. According to the responses, only 13 of these patients (6.1%) were currently using CAM during treatment. With respect to the various products being taken, 9 patients (69.2% of all CAM users) were taking herbs or supplements. Only 7 patients (53.8%) who used CAM disclosed this fact to their physician during in-office encounters. The most common sources for obtaining CAM were health-food stores, where most patients spent approximately $25 per week. The most frequently cited reason for using CAM was that a particular product had been recommended by family or friends as being potentially helpful. No adverse effects of CAM were reported. We conclude that while CAM use was not very prevalent in this study, patients who did use it were employing modalities with biologic activity that may potentially interact with conventional therapies. Because patients’ disclosure of CAM use is frequently not volunteered, otolaryngologists should routinely elicit this information in a highly specific fashion so that we may better serve our unique patient population.

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