The use of adjunctive traditional Chinese medicine therapy and survival outcome in patients with head and neck cancer: a nationwide population-based cohort study

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Background: Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is widely used in the treatment of patients with several types of cancer. However, no large-scale clinical studies have evaluated whether TCM is associated with better survival in patients with head and neck cancer (HNC).

Methods: The Taiwan National Health Insurance Research Database was used to conduct a retrospective cohort study of patients with HNC between 2001 and 2011. The patients with HNC were separated into TCM users and non-users, and Cox regression models were applied to determine the association between the use of TCM and survival outcome.

Results: The TCM and comparison cohorts comprised data for 2966 and 2670 patients, respectively. The mean age was 51.3 years in the TCM cohort and 51.7 years in the comparison cohort. Multivariate analysis demonstrated that the use of TCM was significantly associated with lower risk of all-cause mortality by 32% (adjusted hazard ratio, 0.68; 95% confidence interval, 0.62–0.75). Patients with longer TCM use had a lower mortality rate (P for trend < 0.001).

Conclusions: Our study showed that adjunctive therapy with TCM is associated with higher survival outcome. However, some limitations exist, such as the lack of information of cancer stage. In addition, causality cannot be assessed with this retrospective study. A randomized controlled trial to test the effect of adjunctive TCM therapy in HNC patients is needed.

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