Patients with cancer who use alternative medicine (AM) without conventional chemotherapy (CCT) may have worse clinical outcomes and greater risk of death, according to a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.1

Researchers identified 281 patients with breast, colorectal, lung, or prostate cancer who chose AM over CCT, and matched them 2:1 with 560 patients with cancer who received CCT. There were no significant differences in baseline characteristics.

At the median follow-up of 66 months, patients who received AM had a significantly worse 5-year survival rate of 54.7% (95% CI, 47.5%-61.3%) vs 78.3% (95% CI, 74.2%-81.8%) in patients who received CCT (hazard ratio [HR], 2.21; 95% CI, 1.72-2.83; P < .001).

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Patients in the AM group vs the CCT group had significantly worse 5-year survival in the following disease subtypes: breast (58.1% vs 86.6%, respectively), lung (19.9% vs 41.3%), and colorectal cancer (32.7% vs 87.8%); this was not true, however, for patients with prostate cancer (86.2% vs 91.5%, P = .36).

Patients with breast or lung cancer, fewer comorbidities, more advanced cancer, higher income and education, or who were younger or female were more likely to use AM.

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The authors concluded that “improved communication between patients and caregivers and greater scrutiny of the use of AM for the initial treatment of cancer is needed.”


  1. Johnson SB, Park HS, Gross CP, Yu JB. Use of alternative medicine for cancer and its impact on survival. J Nat Cancer Instit. 2017 Aug 10. doi: 10.1093/jnci/djx145 [Epub ahead of print]