Prostate cancer patients explore use of CAM

Why not use cancer as a metaphor and a reason to change all those things in your life that you wanted to change anyway?

By John Russo, Jr./

Interest in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) has exploded in the 1990s. In 1993, The New England Journal of Medicine reported that one in three adult Americans used some form of alternative medicine, most without informing their primary care allopathic physicians. Americans spent $13.7 billion on 425 million visits to alternative practitioners, compared with $12.8 billion on 385 million visits to primary care allopathic physicians.

A follow-up study published in the November 1998 Journal of the American Medical Association showed an even more dramatic increase in CAM visits and expenditures: 629 million visits and $27 billion in extrapolated annual expenditures.

Now, a report from the 1999 annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) suggests that among men with prostate cancer, the use of CAM may be as high as 80%.

Sixty outpatients receiving care at the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center of Columbia University in New York were surveyed about their health beliefs and CAM use since their diagnosis of prostate cancer. Among 48 patients (80%) who reported having tried at least one CAM modality since being diagnosed, 35 of these men had tried more than one form of CAM. Nutritional supplementation was most commonly used (35 patients), followed by dietary modification (25), herbal treatments (12) and meditation (12).

The number of men included in this survey was small, and it was not possible to predict who was most likely to try CAM. However, another recent report in a larger population of 200 patients with head and neck cancer found an increase in the use of alternative medicine among patients of younger age, with a postsecondary education, higher personal income and Indo-Asian extraction.


In the book Grace and Grit, by Ken Wilber, the author and his wife, who had been diagnosed with breast cancer, discuss to what extent a person with cancer needs to change to get better. He states that from all the evidence he has seen, cancer appears to be about 30% genetic, 55% environmental (i.e., drinking, smoking, dietary fat, toxins, sunlight, electromagnetic radiation, etc.), and 15% everything else — emotional, mental, existential, spiritual. However, that means that at least 85% of the causes may be physical, according to Wilber’s impressions.

As the health of the person living with cancer is directly affected by lifestyle choices, it is important that the health-conscious patient attempt to do everything possible to treat their body well. They need to boost their immune system through the use of nutritious foods and supplements and eliminate unhealthy habits from their life.

Since nobody knows what causes cancer, nobody knows what to change to help cure it. So, Wilber suggests, why not use cancer as a metaphor and a spur to change all those things in your life that you wanted to change anyway?

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is senior vice president of medical communications at He is a pharmacist and medical writer with more than 20 years of experience in medical education.


Eisenberg DM et al. Trends in Alternative Medicine Use in the United States, 1990-1997. JAMA. 1998; 280:1569-1575.

Jacobson JS, Grann VR, Neugut AL et al. Use of Complementary/Alternative Medicine Among Prostate Cancer Patients. American Society of Clinical Oncology, Abstract 1228, 1999.

Supporting a person with cancer through illness and death. Social Inventions Journal. 1993.

Warrick PD, Irish JC, Morningstar M, Gilbert R, Brown D, Gullane P. Use of Alternative Medicine Among Patients With Head and Neck Cancer. Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 1999;125:573-9.

Wilber K. Grace and Grit – Spirituality and Healing in the Life and Death of Treya Killam Wilber. Boston (MA): Shambhala; 1991.