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Choosing Alternative Prostate Cancer Treatment

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Twenty-five men who declined conventional prostate cancer treatment in order to use alternative treatments are taking part in a three-year Health Canada study.

Twenty-five men who declined conventional prostate cancer treatment in order to use alternative treatments are taking part in a three-year Health Canada study.

This study will increase our understanding of why they made such a decision and whether they changed their decisions over time. The men participated in a focus group in 2003. The focus group results will be submitted to a medical journal for publication in June 2004.

The most influential factors for study participants in foregoing conventional treatment for prostate cancer were their beliefs about western medicine and holistic health care. The participants wanted a holistic treatment approach that corresponded with their beliefs about the causes of cancer. They felt that western medicine did not offer such treatment.

The information that study participants collected about conventional and alternative prostate cancer treatments assisted them in making their decision. They explained that they wanted to take a high degree of responsibility for their health and health care. They also desired to retain control over all aspects of treatment decision making, such as timing of the treatment, designing a treatment plan, coordination of their care, and monitoring and evaluating disease progression.

Their decision to forgo conventional treatment was also influenced by observations that men who had surgery and radiation therapy suffered from a loss of quality of life due to treatment side-effects such as incontinence and impotence. Some men used spiritual practices as part of their healing. They declined conventional treatment as they felt it interfered with their ability to draw on spiritual resources for healing.

The men in the study used a range of alternative therapies, including vegetarian diet, traditional Chinese medicine (herbal combinations for the prostate), naturopathic remedies, vitamin supplements such as selenium, spiritual healing practices, and many forms of physical activity (swimming, biking, walking).

Study participants made recommendations for how health-care providers could best support them in making decisions about cancer treatment. For example, they recommended that physicians explain to patients what to expect if a routine PSA test (a blood test that may indicate the presence of a problem with the prostate) is abnormal and allow patients time to learn about prostate cancer before seeing an urologist. These patients did not want to feel rushed by physicians into making decisions about treatment; they thought physicians should recommend "watchful waiting" as an acceptable option for the first six months.

The men wanted their physicians to be open minded rather than defensive about their interesting in exploring alternative approaches. They wanted their doctors to be willing to refer them to physicians who use complementary therapies and encourage them in their own efforts to improve their health with diet, exercise, meditation, and other complementary approaches.

Participants also identified the need for the government to fund complementary care clinics, to remove barriers that make it difficult for physicians to practise complementary medicine, and to cover some complementary therapies under Medicare. Finally, they wanted to see researchers take a more holistic and intuitive approach to studying prostate cancer treatment and management.

These findings are also relevant for men with prostate cancer who are using complementary therapy as a supplement to their conventional cancer treatment.

This study is still ongoing. Those interested in participating can call 604-872-4567 for further information.

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