Beliefs and perceptions of women with newly diagnosed breast cancer who refused conventional treatment in favor of alternative therapies
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PURPOSE: Although breast cancer is a highly treatable disease, some women reject conventional treatment opting for unproven « alternative therapy » that may contribute to poor health outcomes. This study sought to understand why some women make this decision and to identify messages that might lead to greater acceptance of evidence-based treatment.
PATIENTS AND METHODS: This study explored treatment decision making through in-depth interviews with 60 breast cancer patients identified by their treating oncologists. Thirty refused some or all conventional treatment, opting for alternative therapies, whereas 30 accepted both conventional and alternative treatments. All completed the Beck Anxiety Inventory and the Rotter Locus of Control scale.
RESULTS: Negative first experiences with « uncaring, insensitive, and unnecessarily harsh » oncologists, fear of side effects, and belief in the efficacy of alternative therapies were key factors in the decision to reject potentially life-prolonging conventional therapy. Refusers differed from controls in their perceptions of the value of conventional treatment, believing that chemotherapy and radiotherapy were riskier (p < .0073) and less beneficial (p < .0001) than did controls. Controls perceived alternative medicine alone as riskier than did refusers because its value for treating cancer is unproven (p < .0001). Refusers believed they could heal themselves naturally from cancer with simple holistic methods like raw fruits, vegetables, and supplements.
CONCLUSION: According to interviewees, a compassionate approach to cancer care plus physicians who acknowledge their fears, communicate hope, educate them about their options, and allow them time to come to terms with their diagnosis before starting treatment might have led them to better treatment choices.