Collected evidence

First clear guidelines issued on use of complementary therapies for breast cancer

issue 23 | spring 2015

Nearly 80 percent of breast cancer patients in the United States use complementary therapies following a breast cancer diagnosis, but there has been little science-based guidance to inform clinicians and patients about their safety and effectiveness.

Researchers from the Society for Integrative Oncology recently released evidence-based guidelines to indicate which integrative treatments appear to be most effective and safe for patients. The researchers analyzed more than 4,900 articles covering various practices such as acupuncture, dietary supplements, massage and meditation. The guidelines are outlined by symptoms — pain, sleep disorders, nausea and quality of life. All trials examined focused on symptom control and quality of life, not treating cancer. Recommendations were graded using the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force grading system.

Results appear online in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute Monograph.

"Most breast cancer patients have experimented with integrative therapies to manage symptoms and improve quality of life. But of the dozens of products and practices marketed to patients, we found evidence that only a handful currently have a strong evidence base. The key is that complementary therapies are integrated with conventional treatments and that all care decisions are based on evidence," says Suzanna M. Zick, N.D., M.P.H., associate professor of Family Medicine and Environmental Health Sciences at the University of Michigan. Zick is also and president of the Society for Integrative Oncology.