A growing number of patients with breast cancer are opting to forego recommended chemotherapy treatment in favour of alternative medicine like supplements and herbs, a new U.S. study has revealed.

The use of alternative medicine has grown in popularity over the years, especially among patients diagnosed with breast cancer, who researchers found were more likely to skip the recommended treatment.

For the study, published in JAMA Oncology, a team of medical experts from the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University in New York examined 685 women under the age of 70 with invasive breast cancer that have not spread.

Of this number, 87 percent reported using vitamins, herbs, other natural products, and mind-body practice when they first joined the study. About 45 percent of the women should have received chemotherapy based on National Comprehensive Cancer Network, while the rest fell into a category where the decision to undergo chemotherapy is based on the women's discussion with their doctors.

The researchers said 89 percent of the group who should have received chemotherapy did so within a year of joining the study, while 36 percent of those in the discretionary group also underwent chemotherapy.

However, in the group where chemotherapy is recommended, women who were using a lot of alternative medicines were found to be 84 percent less likely to have received the recommended treatment compared to those who didn’t use supplements.

"Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) use was high among patients with early-stage breast cancer enrolled in a multisite prospective cohort study. Current dietary supplement use and higher number of CAM modalities used but not mind-body practices were associated with decreased initiation of clinically indicated chemotherapy," the study concluded.

Lead study author Heather Greenlee told Reuters Health more research is needed to find out why women who use alternative methods were less likely to undergo the recommended therapy, but she said oncologists should start considering discussing the use of alternative medicines with their patients.

"From a public health perspective, there really needs to be a discussion between patients and providers about whether women are using (complementary and alternative medicine) therapies, why are they using them and are their goals realistic," Greenlee said. MIMS