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October 2021

Pediatrics. 1997 Dec; 100(6): E1.

Use of alternative therapies for children with cancer.

Friedman T, Slayton WB, Allen LS, Pollock BH, Dumont-Driscoll M, Mehta P, Graham-Pole J.

Department of Pediatrics, University of Florida College of Medicine, Gainesville, Florida 32610-0296, USA.

OBJECTIVE: To compare the use of alternative therapy (AT) in families of children with cancer with its use in those with routine pediatric conditions. BACKGROUND AND RATIONALE: AT refers to healing practices such as therapeutic massage, acupuncture, and use of medicinal herbs that have become increasingly popular with the general public, but are not widely accepted by the medical profession. Although studies have investigated the use of AT in the families of both healthy children and children with cancer, no comparison of the incidence of its use between these two populations has been published. We hypothesized that AT was used more frequently among the families of children with cancer. METHODS: Using a prevalence survey design, we interviewed 81 parents of children with cancer attending a pediatric hematology/oncology clinic and 80 parents of children attending a continuity care clinic for routine check-ups and acute care. We explored the types of AT being used, the reasons for its use, and the frequency with which it was discussed with the patient's physician. RESULTS: 1) Overall, 65% of the cancer group were using AT, compared with 51% of the control group. This was not statistically significant. 2) Prayer, exercise, and spiritual healing were three AT practices most often used by the cancer group, and prayer, massage, and spiritual healing by the control group. 3) Discussion of AT with the physician varied according to group, with 53% of the cancer patients discussing its use; income level, with 59% of parents in the higher income group discussing its use; and ethnicity, with 47% of whites discussing its use. CONCLUSION: Use of AT is not limited to the families of children with life-challenging illnesses, but is commonly used by those of children with routine pediatric problems. Pediatricians need to be aware that their patients may not tell them about AT practices they are using in addition to prescribed treatment.

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