In 2006, Dr. Kara Kelly, a former faculty member, raised an important question at an international medical conference on cancer and nutrition in Puebla, Mexico. After hospitalization, do young cancer patients and their families tend to rely on traditional healers (using herbs or energy approaches) and forego much needed care at a medical clinic? And how often do these patients rely on complementary and alternative medicine? This initiative was further explored and expanded by Dr. Elena Ladas through the Asociación de Hemato-Oncología Pediátrica de Centro América (AHOPCA) and the International Society for Pediatric Oncology (SIOP).
While dietary supplements are commonly employed by 35 percent to 50 percent of children with cancer here in the United States, less is known about the use of dietary supplements in developing countries. Our doctors published the first of a series of papers in Pediatric Blood Cancer that showed that in Guatemala, traditional or alternative healing approaches are often used along with conventional medical care, underscoring the need for more open communication between clinicians and families. Over 90% of families were using some form of TCAM alongside conventional therapy. This finding led to a region wide initiative examining the use of TCAM alongside in seven countries including Argentina, Honduras, Mexico, Nicargua, Panama, and Uruguay. This study is the first to examine beliefs associated with the use of TCAM and describe the impact that beliefs have on the use and choice of TCAM. The first of these results were published in Cancer in 2015. Dr. Ladas has presented these findings at the annual AHOPCA meetings with follow-up studies in development.
This initiative has been extended to other regions around the globe. In 2014, Dr. Ladas and colleagues established a Traditional & Complementary Medicine (T&CM) collaborative through SIOP. This international collaborative has representatives from several continents around the globe and is examining use of T&CM, health policies addressing T&CM, and its use as supportive care in pediatric oncology.