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Keywords:

  • psycho-social factors;
  • complementary and alternative medicine;
  • men;
  • quality of life;
  • psycho-social support

Men with cancer: is their use of complementary and alternative medicine a response to needs unmet by conventional care?

This qualitative study aims to investigate why men with cancer choose to use complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), and whether CAM is used to fill ‘gaps’ in conventional cancer care or as an ‘alternative’ to conventional treatment. Interviews were carried out with 34 CAM users recruited from a National Health Service (NHS) oncology department, an NHS homeopathic hospital and a private cancer charity offering CAM. Participants used therapies to improve quality of life, to actively ‘fight’ the disease and possibly prolong life, but rarely as an alternative to conventional treatment. Many were initially sceptical about CAM, but took a ‘pragmatic’ and ‘consumerist’ approach to getting their needs met. Gaps in conventional care included: lack of empathy and support during and after treatment, poor continuity of care, and lack of advice on self-help, diet and lifestyle. The skills of CAM therapists may enable them to tap into the underlying needs of men in a way that health professionals do not always have the time or the skills to achieve.