Musculoskeletal complaints top the list of reasons people with cancer seek CAM care, according to researchers from the University of Washington in Seattle.

First, the details.

  • Analysis of an insurance claims database was matched to the Washington State Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results cancer registry.
  • CAM use during the 3 cancer treatment phases — initial, continuing, and end-of-life life — were analyzed.
  • The population included 2900 patients: 63% women, 93% white, with a median age of 54 years.

And, the results.
General findings

  • Breast cancer was the most frequent diagnosis (53%), followed by cancer of the prostate (25%), lung (10%), colon (7%), and hematologic cancers (6%).
  • 27% of the patients used CAM.
  • 85% of CAM visits were for musculoskeletal complaints.
  • Visits to CAM providers represented 7% of total outpatient medical visits.
  • The cost for CAM care was not more than 1% of the total cost of care.
  • The proportion of patients using CAM was similar during each treatment phase.

CAM providers of care

  • Chiropractors were the most frequently used CAM providers (19%).
  • Naturopathic physicians (8%), massage therapists (5%), and acupuncturists (4%) were also used.
  • The use of chiropractic and naturopathic care remained constant during each phase of treatment.
  • Massage and acupuncture were used less during end-of-life care.

The bottom line?
Back and neck pain, arthritis, and similar disorders are common in the general middle-aged population. In the United States, musculoskeletal complaints account for between approximately 15% and 23% of visits to family practice physicians. And “there is no reason,” say the authors, “to suspect that patients with cancer would escape these conditions that are prevalent and difficult to manage.”

In fact, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services, most patients with cancer experience pain at some time during their treatment. And their pain is generally not eliminated, despite analgesic therapy.

5/10/08 19:06 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.