Treat Yourself to Complementary Care For a More Positive Experience of Cancer

Having cancer affects many different aspects of well being, both positive and negative. Now, evidence suggests that cancer survivors who use complementary and integrative medicine are more likely to have positive effects on well being.

The findings of a survey of 614 cancer survivors identified through the Pennsylvania Cancer Registry suggest that a remarkably high proportion of cancer survivors have positive changes resulting from their cancer experiences [1].

The survey’s aim was to assess the characteristics of spiritual health following a diagnosis of cancer, and to evaluate the relationship between spiritual changes and use of complementary and integrative medicine in a group of cancer survivors. All survey respondents were 3 to 4.5 years post-diagnosis.

Many cancer survivors report positive effects from having cancer
A high proportion of cancer survivors report having positive changes in outlook as a result of their cancer experience

As the figure shows, two-fifths of respondents reported having highly positive spiritual changes following their cancer diagnosis, 68 per cent experienced a high sense of purpose, and three-quarters of survivors reported being very hopeful for the future.

Among respondents who did not have a positive experience of cancer, 36.1 per cent experienced negative changes in spirituality and 27.2 per cent continued to experience high levels of uncertainty.

Importantly, those survivors who experienced any positive change from having cancer or who specifically felt that their spiritual life became more important were two-fold more likely to use complementary and integrative medicine than those who reported a neutral or negative change in their spiritual life, or no positive changes from having cancer.

Key message: Positive changes that occur as a result of being diagnosed with cancer or placing increased value on spirituality appear to be associated with the use of complementary and integrative medicine. Although this research does not explain why positive changes and the use of such treatments are linked, it is possible that increased personal activism among cancer survivors or adopting a survivor mindset allows survivors to identify with treatments in which they have a greater participatory role.

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1. Mao JJ, Cronholm PF, Stein E, et al. Positive changes, increased spiritual importance, and complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) use among cancer survivors. Integr Cancer Ther. 2010;9:339–347.

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