Spiritual Practice and Prayer Prevalent in Cancer Survivors

According to new data published online August 4 in Cancer, a significant number of cancer survivors use complementary methods of health care (CM) in conjunction with conventional medicine. A 2002 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) revealed that 36% of 31,044 survey respondents used at least one form of CM during the previous year. The percentage jumped to 62% when prayer was included as a complementary therapy. Included in the respondents were 1904 cancer survivors - 40% of whom used at least one form of CM during the previous year. The survey also found that 62% of cancer survivors polled used prayer for healing. Spiritual practice and prayer were found to be the most prevalent practices used of the 19 complementary methods studied.

Past studies have focused on the use of complementary methods practiced by patients during the cancer treatment period. The current study authors sought to address CM “use further along the cancer continuum”.

White, higher income survivors, younger than 55 years of age were most likely to seek complementary health practices following cancer survival. The prevalence was strongest in breast and ovarian cancer survivors, and lowest in those who have survived melanoma and kidney cancer.

Ted Gansler, MD, MBA, from the American Cancer Society , and lead author of the study explains, CMs are much more popular among breast and ovarian cancer survivors than among people with other cancers, and this is not simply because ovarian cancer is limited to women and breast cancer is extremely rare among men. For example, all types of CMs were used more often by breast and ovarian cancer survivors than by uterine cancer survivors, who are also female. And, when multivariable models were used to consider the effects of gender, stage of disease, age, and several other factors, the type of cancer still remained a significant predictor of CM use."

The use of complementary medicine has become increasingly popular in the United States for a variety of health problems. Current study data revealed the following:

•Relaxation (44.3%),
•Faith and spiritual healing (42.4%)
•Nutritional supplements and vitamins (40.1%)
•Meditation (15%)
•Religious counseling (11.3%)
•Massage (11.2%)
•Support groups (9.7%)
•Hypnosis was only used in 0.4% of those surveyed, biofeedback, 1.0%, and acupuncture/acupressure 1.2%.

Women were more likely to use complementary methods, as were non-Hispanic whites, and those with incomes levels greater than $40,000 annually. Over half of the respondents were women, 31.7% were 65 years of age or younger, and 31.7%, non-Hispanic white.

Dr. Gansler advocates that oncologists become more familiar with reputable practitioners of complementary healing methods, as well as which therapies work and those that may cause harm. Recommendations for more studies into the biological basis of complementary methods of healthcare, as well as the perceived benefits would also prove valuable. "…” someone needs to advise patients on which other complementary therapies are likely to be beneficial to them and which local providers are reputable."