Bring on the Mistletoe! Complementary Therapy Use in Patients with Brain Tumors

December 22, 2010


By Lynne Taylor, MD
Virginia Mason Medical Center
Seattle, Washington

Use of complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) therapies is common, but I’ve noticed that my patients sometimes hesitate to bring up this topic.

I was pleased to see that in the December 14, 2010, issue of Neurology® there is a review article from Germany looking at the use of complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) by patients with primary brain tumors.

Taking advantage of the German Glioma Network, a clinical research group sponsored by German Cancer Aid, the researchers set out to answer three basic questions: (see answers below)

  1. How common is the use of complementary therapies among patients with glioma in Germany?
  2. Which therapies are used and what is the motivation for using them?
  3. What communication pathways led to the decision to use these therapies?

They defined "complementary therapy" as "practices that are not widely taught in medical school" and included "psychological methods" as one of their categories including magic and mistletoe (appropriate given the holiday), one of the most often studied and prescribed CAM therapies for cancer.

The group sent 939 questionnaires to the patients by mail and 621 were completed and available for further study — all of the patients had tumors that had arisen within the brain (World Health Organization grades I-IV glioma).

When comparing the patients who chose complementary therapies to those who did not, the users were younger, more likely to be female and to have a higher education level. The finding of other authors that patients tend to seek complementary therapies when the information and care they receive from the primary doctor is not satisfying or was not confirmed by their data.

In fact, patients most often said that sought out this therapy "to have tried everything" or "to support the conventional therapy."

The answers to the previous questions are:

  1. 40%
  2. Vitamin supplementation and homeopathy are the most common with psychologic support a close third.
  3. The urging to begin these therapies most often came from friends, relatives and physicians with only 15% reporting they began this practice after consulting the Internet.

Please feel free to discuss these issues with your neurologist; we are interested in how patients choose to support themselves during radiation therapy and chemotherapy or the study would not have been performed. Consider using this article to begin the discussion with your own doctors.

For more information on complementary and alternative medicines:

What your neurologist is reading: