ECCO 13 offers new insights into patients' perceptions of cancer

11/02/05

Paris, France, Wednesday 2 November 2005 - New light has been shed on patients' perception of cancer following the results of studies, presented at the 13th European Cancer Conference (ECCO), which focused on the sufferer's own perspectives. In particular, new insights have been gained into the use of complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) following a diagnosis of cancer. Patient communication with health care professionals about sexual concerns was also highlighted as a potential issue.

In order to generate new understanding about the ways in which cancer patients use CAM as an adjuvant to conventional treatment, and to identify the perceived value of this complementary approach, a study of 304 recently diagnosed cancer patients was undertaken with funding by the Department of Health. Patients attending two cancer centres were surveyed over a 3-month period to determine CAM use before and since diagnosis. A sub-sample of 40 patients also took part in semi-structured interviews.

Before diagnosis, 33% of patients reported using CAM, with this figure dropping to 28% after cancer diagnosis. Of the recently-diagnosed patients using CAM, 57 were previous CAM users and 29 were new to CAM. Interestingly, only just over half (57 out of 100) of patients who used CAM before diagnosis had continued to take advantage of this alternative approach after their cancer was confirmed.

CAM use post-diagnosis was found to be almost universally helpful, with no patient reporting they felt it had been unhelpful. Cancer sufferers who opted to utilise alternative approaches were more likely to be younger, female and educated to a higher level. 45% of CAM users since diagnosis had breast cancer, compared with only 17% of non-CAM users. In terms of the actual pattern and type of CAM use reported by patients, this was found to vary considerably.

This study is the first to reveal how CAM use can alter following a diagnosis of cancer. In addition, the findings indicate that there may be important factors, over and above individual beliefs and motivation, that influence CAM use. Factors such as the availability of CAM within cancer treatment settings, information about CAM and overall safety considerations may also be important influencers of CAM use among patients undergoing cancer treatment.

Speaking at ECCO, Professor Alexander Molassiotis from the University of Manchester commented, "Complementary and Alternative Medicine use is about 'thinking outside the box'. It is about pushing the boundaries of medicine a bit further. It enables a more holistic approach to patient care, and different models and medical philosophies are working in an integrated manner for the patients' benefit. It can have an important role in the supportive care of patients with cancer, empowering patients and improving their emotional and physical well being."

As well as having a significant bearing on patients' perception of complementary medicine, busy clinical settings and heavy caseloads can present barriers to cancer patients receiving timely and appropriate help for unmet needs. In particular, the communication challenges felt by patients escalate when it comes to addressing sensitive psychosocial needs such as those related to sexuality. Important data showcased at ECCO 13 stemmed from a study undertaken to describe patients' perspectives about communication with cancer care professionals about their sexual concerns.

In total, 30 in-depth interviews were conducted with patients suffering from a wide range of cancers. Patients confirmed that they had experienced concerns about sexuality because of their cancer diagnosis and treatment. They also reported encountering barriers when they raised their concerns with health care providers and wanted to discuss these matters. Many felt they did not want to raise their concerns with providers who were "very busy". The findings have clear implications for education of staff members and practice concerning patient communication of sexual issues in cancer settings. These needs require addressing in a sensitive manner, with healthcare providers linking patients with the services they may need.

"The implications of these study results direct us toward education for health care professionals and toward how we can create the type of environment for communication that is comfortable for patients to discuss sensitive topics," noted Dr Margaret Fitch from Toronto Sunnybrook Regional Centre, Canada. "The findings also implicate the importance of considering the psychosocial burden patients are carrying at various times during their illness and how important their personal goals and readiness are in dealing with the issues and concerns they may have. This work is a beginning exploration of this topic area and will need to be validated in future work and other settings. The importance of cultural perspectives regarding this topic is an area for which we need much deeper understanding."

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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