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Complementary medicine benefits cancer patients

13 July 2012



The use of oral complementary or alternative medicine in cancer patients is linked to a decrease in hospitalisation days and need for antibiotics

Photo: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd

NUS and National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS) researchers have found that the use of oral complementary or alternative medicine (CAM) in cancer patients is linked to a decrease in hospitalisation days and need for antibiotics. The study was published in Alternative Therapies earlier this year.

CAM includes traditional Chinese medicine, ayurveda, vitamins, minerals and food supplements. Patients cited bird's nest, essence of chicken, multivitamins and lingzhi mushroom as the most commonly consumed foods.

A total of 357 patients treated at NCCS were followed up from an earlier survey. Of these, 195 took CAM. The researchers observed that non-users had a higher incidence of getting infections, resulting in hospitalisation and administration of antibiotics.

The study is apt given Singapore's multiethnic population who are exposed to medicine from both Western and Asian cultures. The earlier study in 2009 conducted by NUS and NCCS found a high prevalence of CAM use among local cancer patients - 56.3 per cent more than the average prevalence reported in other adult studies.

NUS Department of Pharmacy's Assoc Prof Alexandre Chan, who is also an oncology specialist pharmacist at NCCS, was involved in both studies. He said that little research has been done in this field within the cancer population so the Singapore work is significant in shedding some light.

Assoc Prof Chan noted that doctors are often concerned about the effects of CAM on the kidney or liver functions of patients undergoing chemotherapy. So far the investigators have not detected any significant changes in kidney and liver functions in patients who concurrently use CAM with their cancer therapy.

For future research, the team highlighted that well-designed trials are needed to examine the clinical effectiveness of CAM in cancer patients.



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