Use of Alternative Medicine Among Patients With Head and Neck Cancer

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To determine the prevalence of alternative medicine use in the population with head and neck cancer and correlate with demographics and tumor characteristics.


Cross-sectional survey study.


Two tertiary cancer centers.


Two hundred consecutive outpatients with consecutive head and neck cancer.


A 10- to 25-minute patient interview administered by primary investigator.

Main Outcome Measures

Demographic markers (sex, age, education, household income, marital status, ethnic background, and geographic location); tumor characteristics (tumor site, pathology, staging, time since diagnosis, and incidence of recurrence); conventional mode of treatment; attitudes regarding alternative medicine, source of exposure to alternative medicine, therapeutic rationale, treatment efficacy, sources of information, and discussions with physicians about alternative medicine.


Seventy-seven (38.5%) of 200 patients had used alternative medicine for some purpose, and 45 (22.5%) of 200 did so for head and neck cancer. Increased use of alternative medicine occurred among patients of younger age, having a postsecondary education, higher personal income, and Indo-Asian extraction. Of those patients using alternative anticancer therapy, increased use was noted among patients with tumors of the nasopharynx, nonsquamous cell carcinoma pathology, and recurrent disease. Conventional mode of treatment had no association with alternative medicine use. Physicians were believed to be the most knowledgeable about alternative medicine, while the usual proponents of alternative medicine were identified least frequently.


Alternative cancer therapy use among patients with head and neck cancer was 22.5%, with increased use in younger, affluent, better educated patients, and those of Indo-Asian extraction. Patients view physicians as being knowledgeable about alternative medicine. Otolaryngologists should inform themselves about alternative medicine to counsel patients more effectively.

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