College of Medicine & Veterinary Medicine

Alternative medicines proving popular

Complementary therapies are widely used by Scottish children with cancer, according to an Edinburgh-led study.

The researchers say that alternative medicines can have a positive impact on quality of life when used to complement rather than replace conventional cancer treatments.

However, the trend raises potential concerns because some therapies can interfere with conventional cancer treatments.

The research team suggest that cancer doctors should question patients and their families about their use of complementary therapies as part of routine clinical practice.

Vitamins and minerals

The study estimates that more than half of Scottish children with cancer are supplementing their conventional treatment with complementary and alternative medicines (CAM).

Vitamins and minerals, massage and fish oils are the most commonly reported therapies used.

Stress relief

Most of those who use CAM find it helps to cut stress and alleviate the side-effects of cancer treatment, the survey reveals.

However, researchers are concerned because vitamins, mineral supplements and herbal remedies can on rare occasions make conventional cancer treatments less effective. In some cases, they can make them more toxic.

Doctors need to know if their patients are using alternative therapies so that they can assess any potential effects on their treatment. It is not always current routine clinical practice to ask patients and their families about CAM but it should be.
Professor David WilsonDepartment of Child Life and Health at the University of Edinburgh

Scottish families

Researchers, funded by the Fergus Maclay Leukaemia Trust, questioned 74 families of children with cancer living in South East Scotland. They stressed that they didn’t find any evidence of patients being harmed by using CAM.

The study is published in the journal Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice.