An analysis of insurance records in Washington State—which requires private insurers to cover certain complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) practices—showed that more than a quarter of cancer patients visited CAM providers during their cancer treatment. The NCCAM-funded analysis, published in The American Journal of Managed Care, also indicated that related CAM expenditures accounted for 1 percent or less of all treatment costs.
Researchers at the University of Washington matched insurance claims data to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center's cancer registry to assess CAM provider use and related expenses. They tracked these data in 2,900 patients aged 18 to 64 between January 2000 and December 2004 during three treatment phases: initial (the first 12 months following diagnosis), continuing care, and end-of-life treatment (the 12 months preceding death). CAM provider use did not differ significantly between the three phases.
CAM providers included chiropractors, massage therapists, naturopathic physicians, and acupuncturists. Findings from the analysis showed that:
- Patients most often consulted chiropractors (musculoskeletal problems occurred in more than 72 percent of patients).
- Of all outpatient visits, 7.2 percent were to CAM providers.
- Expenditures for CAM providers (as a percentage of total health care expenditures) were 0.3 percent, initial phase; 1 percent, continuing care phase; and 0.1 percent, end-of-life phase. All patients also used conventional cancer treatment.
The researchers noted that the patients in the study were mostly White and mostly women. They also pointed out the need for additional studies to determine the importance of patient access to CAM providers and called for more research on the comparative effectiveness of CAM and conventional therapies for treating musculoskeletal conditions in patients with cancer.
Lafferty WE, Tyree PT, Devlin SM, et al. Complementary and alternative medicine provider use and expenditures by cancer treatment phase. The American Journal of Managed Care.; 14(5):326–334.2008