Cancer Pract. 1998 May-Jun; 6(3): 176-81.
Alternative care. Patient choices for adjunct therapies within a cancer center.
Sutter Wellness and Healing Network, Sutter Cancer Center, Sacramento, CA 95816, USA.
PURPOSE: Prompted by an increased interest in and awareness of alternative medicine, the Sutter Cancer Center in Sacramento, California, sponsored a telephone survey of its cancer patients. The primary purpose of this 1994 survey was: 1) to determine patient perceptions and attitudes regarding alternative care providers, and 2) to determine whether the Sutter Cancer Center should provide support for these types of therapies to its patients. DESCRIPTION OF STUDY: The Center conducted a 95-item telephone survey of its patients with cancer, using an independent professional research firm. A random sample of 503 adult patients completed the 15-minute telephone survey between January 27 and March 8, 1994. The sample included more women than men (62%, 38%, respectively), and patients ranged in age from 18 to 88 years. All respondents had been treated for cancer at the Center within the past 2 years. Survey questions included areas such as cancer diagnosis, awareness of alternative therapies, attitude toward alternative therapies, and perception of oncologists' attitude toward alternative therapies. The analysis of the survey results contained two phases: descriptive analysis and comparative analysis. The descriptive aspect is included in this report. RESULTS: Of the 503 respondents, 82 (16%) had considered utilizing alternative therapy for cancer after a diagnosis was made. Most respondents were moderately familiar with alternative therapy, such as nutrition therapy (59%), herbal therapy (63%), and acupuncture (62%). Only 6% of respondents actually saw a provider of alternative therapies; providers were most frequently nutritionists, counselors, herbalists, and massage therapists. The user patient profile clearly indicates that usage is highest in patients with a diagnosis of at least 1 year. Seventy-five percent reported that they would prefer to receive a referral from their doctors, while 20% would prefer to use a telephone referral line. Two thirds of patients felt that alternative care providers should be encouraged by the medical profession, and 85% indicated that alternative care should be offered at the cancer center as part of oncology treatment. CLINICAL IMPLICATIONS: The results of this survey clearly reflect the patients' desires to integrate mainstream medicine with some forms of alternative/complementary medicine. Consequently, the Sutter Cancer Center has established a multidisciplinary group of healthcare professionals, including oncologists, nurses, social workers, and alternative practitioners, to evaluate the clinical, psychosocial, and financial impact of integrating wellness/complementary medicine into the existing treatment model at this facility. Providing alternative therapy within a cancer center ensures the availability of both the most advanced conventional treatment and care as well as accurate information and guidance with regard to alternative therapies. This service allows the patient and the cancer care team to focus not only on the patient's physical symptoms, but also on his or her overall quality of life.