Use of Integrative Medicine by Patients With Breast Cancer

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Nearly three-quarters of patients with breast cancer (73%) reported using at least one type of complementary medicine after cancer diagnosis, while surveyed oncologists believed that less than half (43%) of patients were using these approaches during cancer care. These and other findings from a national survey of oncologists and patients with breast cancer were reported by Crudup et al during the 2021 ASCO Annual Meeting (Abstract e24123).

The study found that doctors reported discussing integrative health with only about half of their patients, leading patients to seek information outside the clinic.

"Cancer is a complex disease that affects every component of a patient's life. While conventional medicine is effective for curing disease, it can fall short in helping patients heal," said Wayne Jonas, MD, report coauthor and Executive Director for Integrative Health Programs at the Samueli Foundation. "Patients are turning to these therapies to look for hope and to improve their quality of life and well-being after diagnosis, but they are looking for more guidance from their oncologists."

National Surveys

A national survey of 115 clinical oncologists who treat breast cancer was conducted in late 2020 alongside a similar survey of 164 patients with breast cancer who had been diagnosed within 2 years of the survey. The poll was conducted by IQVIA (a global provider of advanced analytics, technology solutions, and clinical research services to the life sciences industry) to understand awareness, usage, and attitudes toward the use of complementary and lifestyle therapies in addition to medical treatment.


  • Two-thirds of oncologists (66%) and patients (65%) surveyed believed using complementary and lifestyle therapies improve patients' quality of life.
  • Many patients (60%) also believe these treatments lead to better health outcomes.

In the study, the researchers found that two-thirds of oncologists (66%) and patients (65%) believed using complementary and lifestyle therapies improve patients' quality of life. Many patients (60%) also believe these treatments lead to better health outcomes. Interestingly, patient use of tai chi/chi gong or acupuncture had the strongest correlation with positive impact on quality of life among the 12 modalities tested.

The survey also gauged patients' and physicians' awareness of complementary and lifestyle therapies and sources of information for patients. Most oncologists reported familiarity with at least one therapy. These physicians saw nutrition consultation, support groups, psycho-oncology support, and exercise consultation as the most important integrative services. However, they gave relatively low marks to spiritual services and meditation or mindfulness—two approaches that patients reported seeing as important. Patients also recalled their care teams providing fewer recommendations about these two modalities than the others.

While oncologists and patients agreed that an oncologist, oncology nurse, or patient navigator is a good source of information for complementary medicine and lifestyle therapies, patients had a slight preference for hearing directly from the oncologists.

"Many oncologists are generally supportive of integrating complementary and lifestyle therapies with conventional medical treatment, but the education and guidance given to patients varies widely," said Terri Crudup, Senior Principal of Primary Intelligence at IQVIA and first author of the study. "Oncologists and the institutions at which they practice should look for methods to educate and expose patients to a variety of safe and effective complementary and lifestyle therapies to find the ones that will help their patients most."

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The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.