Published by Oxford University Press
287 pages plus index.
In the past two decades there has been considerable growth in the complementary health area. It is widely acknowledged that a range of complementary therapies is widely used by cancer patients. Australian studies have identified that between 22-50% of patients use one or more of these interventions1,2. Discussion of complementary therapies can evoke strong responses from cancer health professionals. This text aims to move beyond the rhetoric that often surrounds discussion of complementary therapies and explore the role, benefits, limitations and contraindications of integration of complementary therapies into mainstream cancer care.
Jennifer Barraclough, a consultant in psychological medicine, has drawn together a diverse range of authors to explore this topic. The 25 chapters provide a historical review, exploration of the evidence and research in this area, and personal patient experience as well as the views and experiences of health professionals in using different forms of complementary therapies.
The book is organised into three core sections. The first section focuses on the recent history of complementary treatments, research in complementary treatments and health service planning. Section two explores the use of specific therapies in cancer care, including acupuncture, aromatherapy, massage, art therapy, homeopathy, hypnosis and meditation. There are some surprises in what is considered complementary, for example the chapter in nutrition would normally appear in most mainstream cancer nursing and supportive care books. The third section explores professional settings. This section describes the experiences of consumers and health professionals in implementing or using these types of treatments. Professor Michael Baum’s reflection as a sceptical surgeon highlights the position many cancer health professionals come from, with the gradual recognition that there are potential benefits from some complementary therapies for patients, and the different worldview presented by these therapies can be beneficial for all health providers.
As highlighted in the preface, there are varying styles of presentation in the chapters, from academic to personal experience. This approach does not detract from the overall style of the text, or its readability. It does, however, appear to influence how critically research has been reviewed and in one case, a potential selection bias in which studies are cited.
Overall, this is a an informative, and to the most part balanced, presentation that provides cancer health professionals with the opportunity to learn from others’ experiences, and explore the benefits – as well as the limitations – of complementary therapies relating to cancer practice. The main thesis of the text is that it is through integrating these therapies alongside mainstream cancer care that benefits to both patients and health professionals will be achieved.
1. BR Cassileth. “Complementary and Alternative Cancer Medicine.” Journal of Clinical Oncology, 17 (1999): 44-52.
2. E Ernst, BR Cassileth. “However useful are unconventional cancer treatments?” European Journal of Clinical Cancer, 35, 11 (1999): 1608-1613.