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J Clin Oncol. 1998 Jan; 16(1): 6-12.

Cancer patients use of nonproven therapy: a 5-year follow-up study.

Risberg T, Lund E, Wist E, Kaasa S, Wilsgaard T.

Institute of Community Medicine, and Department of Oncology, University Hospital of Tromsø, Norway. [email protected]

PURPOSE: To investigate the prospective pattern of use of alternative medicine, here called nonproven therapy (NPT), among oncologic patients during a 5-year period, and the relationship between this use and survival, a questionnaire-based follow-up study was performed at the Department of Oncology, University of Tromsø, from 1990 to 1996. PATIENTS AND METHODS: Two-hundred fifty-two patients answered the first questionnaire during the period July 1990 to July 1991. Eligible patients were mailed follow-up questionnaires after 4, 12, 24 and 60 months. A telephone interview performed after the last follow-up questionnaire showed little disagreement with the prospective collected information as regards the number of patients reported as users of NPT (kappa, 0.92). RESULTS: The number of patients who reported ever using NPT in each cross-sectional part of the study varied between 17.4% and 27.3%. However, the estimated cumulative risk of being a user of NPT during the follow-up period was 45%. Seventy-four percent of NPT users in this north Norwegian study population used faith healing or healing by hand (spiritual NPT) alone or in combination with other forms of NPT. The proportion of patients who used spiritual versus nonspiritual forms of NPT was consistent throughout the follow-up period. Women were more often users than men (50% v 31%, P = .002). Patients older than 75 years of age seldomly used NPT. The 5-year observed survival rate was not influenced by the use of NPT. Adjusted for sex, age, and diagnosis, patients with a high educational level had a borderline higher 5-year survival rate than patients with less education (P = .06). CONCLUSION: Our results demonstrate that cross-sectionally designed studies will underestimate the number of ever-users of NPT in a cancer patient population. The use of NPT does not influence observed survival among cancer patients seen in north Norway.

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