Patient preferences on the integration of complementary therapy with conventional cancer care

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Complementary therapy use by patients with cancer is highly prevalent, although little is known about the optimal model of integration with conventional care. This study explored patient preferences regarding integration in an Australian context.


Cancer patients participated in focus groups conducted by an experienced facilitator. Transcripts of discussions were subjected to thematic analysis.


Fourteen female and four male patients took part in eight focus groups. Eleven had received conventional cancer treatment for early-stage disease, and seven for advanced stage. Participants had sound understanding of the distinction between complementary and alternative medicines. There were differing views on whether complementary therapy and conventional cancer services should be colocated. Some participants described colocation as discordant with their reasons for using complementary therapy. Participants valued guidance from oncology health professionals regarding complementary therapy that was tailored to their individual needs. In addition to medical oncologists, nursing staff and affiliated complementary therapists were considered to be appropriate sources for guidance. Additional themes identified in the analysis were also informative: patients achieve autonomy and self-expression through complementary therapies; the knowledge and attitudes of health professionals and limited consultation time are barriers to integration; self-funding of complementary therapies is acceptable to participants.


The study findings suggest that while patients have diverse views regarding the optimal integration model, there is no strong preference for geographic colocation of complementary therapy with conventional cancer care. Patients valued personalized information and guidance regarding complementary therapy from health professionals involved in their cancer care.

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