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Original Investigation
July 19, 2018

Complementary Medicine, Refusal of Conventional Cancer Therapy, and Survival Among Patients With Curable Cancers

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Therapeutic Radiology, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut
  • 2Cancer Outcomes, Public Policy, and Effectiveness Research Center, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut
JAMA Oncol. Published online July 19, 2018. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2018.2487
Key Points

Question  What patient characteristics are associated with use of complementary medicine for cancer and what is the association of complementary medicine with treatment adherence and survival?

Findings  In this cohort study of 1 901 815 patients, use of complementary medicine varied by several factors and was associated with refusal of conventional cancer treatment, and with a 2-fold greater risk of death compared with patients who had no complementary medicine use.

Meaning  Patients who received complementary medicine were more likely to refuse other conventional cancer treatment, and had a higher risk of death than no complementary medicine; however, this survival difference could be mediated by adherence to all recommended conventional cancer therapies.

Abstract

Importance  There is limited information on the association among complementary medicine (CM), adherence to conventional cancer treatment (CCT), and overall survival of patients with cancer who receive CM compared with those who do not receive CM.

Objectives  To compare overall survival between patients with cancer receiving CCT with or without CM and to compare adherence to treatment and characteristics of patients receiving CCT with or without CM.

Design, Setting, and Participants  This retrospective observational study used data from the National Cancer Database on 1 901 815 patients from 1500 Commission on Cancer–accredited centers across the United States who were diagnosed with nonmetastatic breast, prostate, lung, or colorectal cancer between January 1, 2004, and December 31, 2013. Patients were matched on age, clinical group stage, Charlson-Deyo comorbidity score, insurance type, race/ethnicity, year of diagnosis, and cancer type. Statistical analysis was conducted from November 8, 2017, to April 9, 2018.

Exposures  Use of CM was defined as “Other-Unproven: Cancer treatments administered by nonmedical personnel” in addition to at least 1 CCT modality, defined as surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, and/or hormone therapy.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Overall survival, adherence to treatment, and patient characteristics.

Results  The entire cohort comprised 1 901 815 patients with cancer (258 patients in the CM group and 1 901 557 patients in the control group). In the main analyses following matching, 258 patients (199 women and 59 men; mean age, 56 years [interquartile range, 48-64 years]) were in the CM group, and 1032 patients (798 women and 234 men; mean age, 56 years [interquartile range, 48-64 years]) were in the control group. Patients who chose CM did not have a longer delay to initiation of CCT but had higher refusal rates of surgery (7.0% [18 of 258] vs 0.1% [1 of 1031]; P < .001), chemotherapy (34.1% [88 of 258] vs 3.2% [33 of 1032]; P < .001), radiotherapy (53.0% [106 of 200] vs 2.3% [16 of 711]; P < .001), and hormone therapy (33.7% [87 of 258] vs 2.8% [29 of 1032]; P < .001). Use of CM was associated with poorer 5-year overall survival compared with no CM (82.2% [95% CI, 76.0%-87.0%] vs 86.6% [95% CI, 84.0%-88.9%]; P = .001) and was independently associated with greater risk of death (hazard ratio, 2.08; 95% CI, 1.50-2.90) in a multivariate model that did not include treatment delay or refusal. However, there was no significant association between CM and survival once treatment delay or refusal was included in the model (hazard ratio, 1.39; 95% CI, 0.83-2.33).

Conclusions and Relevance  In this study, patients who received CM were more likely to refuse additional CCT, and had a higher risk of death. The results suggest that mortality risk associated with CM was mediated by the refusal of CCT.

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