Patients with Incurable Brain Tumors Turn to Alternative Therapies for Help

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A glioma is a type of brain or spinal tumor that arises from glial cells. Because the condition is rarely curable through modern medicine, patients often turn to complementary and alternative therapies in hopes of finding a treatment or as an effort to relieve symptoms. In fact, a new study conducted at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf finds that about 40% of patients will turn to remedies such as homeopathy, vitamin supplements or psychological therapies.

Patients Do Not Distrust Medicine, But Want Alternatives to Care

About 18,000 Americans are diagnosed each year with malignant glioma, according to the Society for Neuroscience. Unfortunately, only about half survive the first year after diagnosis and around 25% survive two years. Conventional treatment depends upon the location, the cell type, and the grade of the malignancy.

Read: Independent Study Concludes Cell Phones Can Cause Brain Tumors

According to study author Dr. Oliver Heese, younger patients, women and those with higher education levels were the most likely to use alternative therapies than older patients, men and those with less education. The most common reasons cited for trying alternative therapies include building up the body’s ability to fight the cancer and feeling like they were able to do something to help themselves.

"The majority of people are turning to alternative treatments not because they are dissatisfied with their conventional care, but because they wish to add something beneficial to their care," said Dr. Heese in an American Academy of Neurology news release.

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Thirty-nine percent of the patients surveyed used homeopathy, also known as homeopathic medicine, a whole medical system that was developed in Germany more than 200 years ago, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Homeopathy seeks to stimulate the body’s ability to heal itself by giving very small doses of highly diluted substances.

Homeopathic remedies are regulated in the same manner as over-the-counter drugs and the FDA requires that they meet certain legal standards for strength, purity and packaging. If the product claims to treat a serious disease, such as cancer, it can only be provided through a prescription.

Read: More Medicare, Medicaid Patients Turning to Alternative Therapies

Thirty-one percent of the survey respondents used vitamin supplements and another 29% tried psychological therapies. Other common therapies tried by at least 10% of the respondents include mineral supplementation, Boswelia acids, special diets, mistletoe, acupuncture, phytotherapy, shielding methods, and magic.

Most of the users (59.8%) thought their general condition had been improved by CAM therapies, and very few reported any side effects.

Heese notes that not many patients in general practice will offer this type of information to their physicians, but that "doctors need to be aware of patients' desire to seek alternative treatments and encourage an open discussion of options. Their guidance may be much appreciated, especially when some treatments are dubious, expensive or potentially harmful."

Source reference:
Heese O, et al "Complementary therapy use in patients with glioma: an observational study" Neurology 2010; 75: 2229-2235. The study was supported by the German Cancer Aid and carried out by the German Glioma Network.

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