Background and objective: Up to 60% of all oncological patients use methods of alternative medicine in the course of their illness. In earlier blinded studies demographic characteristics and the patients' motives of using alternative medicine had been recorded, but a correlation with individual illnesses had not been possible. Patients and methods: 142 patients of a oncological outpatient clinic gave their experience with alternative medicine in interviews and non-blinded questionnaires, 103 of them (72.5%; 46 men and 57 women; median age 58 years, range 18-91 years) returning questionnaires that could be evaluated. Results: 46 patients stated that they had used alternative medicine. There was no difference between users and nonusers regarding sex, age, profession, education, family status or religion. 58% of all patients with advanced disease used alternative medicine, compared with only 31% with partial remission or stable disease and 41% in complete remission (P=0.042). Vitamins and mistletoe preparations were the most commonly used substances (50 and 45%, respectively). The predominant purpose was to stimulate the immune system (77%) and strengthen general physical capacity (64.5%). As main stimulus for using alternative medicine the patients came from their family doctor (56%), followed by family and friends (41%). Alternative medicine was used largely as complementary and not an alternative to conventional medicine. Health insurances met all or of some of the costs of alternative treatment in 59% of patients. Conclusion: A large number of patients treated with conventional oncological regimens also use alternative medicine, most of them because of a polypragmatic attitude to tumor treatment. Family doctors and health insurance companies are playing a more important role than had hitherto been assumed in spreading the use of treatment options without providing scientifically based evidence of their efficacy.
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