The aim of this study was to ascertain the prevalence of alternative medicine consumption in Chinese cancer patients on active conventional treatment. A cross sectional survey of 100 consecutive advanced cancer patients admitted to a cancer clinical trial referral unit were personally interviewed by their assigned oncology research nurse using a specially designed questionnaire. The results showed that 64% of our patients used indigenous Chinese medication. In all age groups except the over-70s (P = 0.043), >50% took such medication, more female (76%) than male (57.6%) patients (P = 0.323). Patients of all educational levels (P = 0.062) and religious backgrounds (P = 0.08) consumed alternative medicines. Duration of alternative medication consumption was less than three months in 50% of patients, with costs between US$40 and 2000/month for 70% of patients. Reasons cited for alternative medication consumption was hope that it might be of some benefit to their well being or disease control, and maybe even result in a miracle cure. Sources of advice on medication were mostly from strangers (by word of mouth), family, friends, the media, and infrequently from qualified professional Chinese doctors. Reasons for discontinuing such treatment were mostly given as lack of positive effect. In conclusion, Chinese cancer patients, willingly, rampantly and non-selectiveiy seek out and consume alternative medications, with almost total ignorance of the medication consumed, oblivious to any potential side effects, and with little subjective benefit.
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