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The significant use of traditional and complementary medicine (T&CM) by cancer survivors is well documented. The aim of this study was to explore cancer survivors’ views on integrating T&CM services with conventional cancer care.
A mixed-method study design with an emphasis on qualitative methodology was used to conduct and analyse four focus group interviews and an on-line survey. Purposive sampling recruited 33 cancer survivors and caregivers from Arabic, Vietnamese, Chinese and Anglo-European Australian backgrounds who participated in one of four focus group interviews, and 121 cancer survivors who responded to an on-line survey. The inductive thematic analysis was augmented with a descriptive statistical analysis.
Most participants had used T&CM therapies or consulted T&CM practitioners as an adjuvant during and/or after their initial cancer treatment. Two themes emerged: ‘positive perceptions and experiences’ and ‘barriers and unmet needs’. Participants emphasised that T&CM was not a ‘luxury item’, rather it was considered important for managing side effects and comorbidities, rehabilitation and quality of life. A wide range of complex, interrelated barriers and solutions to IO service provision and access were identified. Structural barriers included inadequate service provision, medical practitioner attitudes, logistical constraints and funding. Personal barriers were influenced by the severity of impairment and disability; attitudes, beliefs and knowledge about T&CM; and available resources (e.g. finances, time, transport). Unmet need and inequitable access was exacerbated by geographical location, ethnicity and ability to pay. There was a mismatch between where participants were accessing T&CM services and their preference for IO service delivery. Participants perceived hospital-based IO services availability to have several benefits, including the T&CM practitioners having more expert knowledge about cancer care, the convenience of co-locating oncology services, and potentially lower out-of-pocket costs.
Patients’ use, preferences and needs for T&CM services in the oncology setting are important for informing service provision. Inequitable, unmet need reflected the increasing demand and expectation from patients for their oncology teams to be well informed about the benefits, risks and indications for T&CM use, and for the public and private health sectors to formally integrate and fund IO services.