26 percent of senior oncology patients use alternative therapies

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More than a quarter of senior oncology patients use complementary or alternative medicines (CAM), according to a study published in the Journal of Geriatric Oncology.

"Currently, few oncologists are aware of the alternative medicines their patients take," says Ginah Nightingale, PharmD, an Assistant Professor in the Jefferson College of Pharmacy at Thomas Jefferson University.

"Patients often fail to disclose the CAMs they take because they think they are safe, natural, nontoxic and not relevant to their cancer care, because they think their doctor will disapprove, or because the doctor doesn't specifically ask."

For the study, researchers surveyed senior patients with cancer who came for consultations at the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital Senior Adult Oncology Multi-Disciplinary clinic. Researchers found that 26% of patients were taking CAMs at some point during their cancer care. Of those, 68% were over 80 years of age and the majority of users were women.

The most common CAMs used by patients were alternative therapies for macular degeneration, probiotics, joint health, and mega-dose vitamins or minerals.

The finidngs suggest that it is very important that clinicians comprehensively screen older patients with cancer for all medications used, including CAMs. Certain CAMs like St. John's wort can interact with certain anti-cancer medications, making them less effective.

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More than a quarter of senior oncology patients use complementary or alternative medicines (CAM).
Alternative medicines are widely thought to be at least harmless and very often helpful for a wide range of discomforts and illnesses. However, although they're marketed as "natural," they often contain active ingredients that can react chemically and biologically with other therapies.
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