Linking Faith and Complementary Therapies in Cancer Care for African-Americans

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 09:10
Location: Hörsaal 32 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Sandra SULZER, Utah State University, USA
Lindsey HAYNES-MASLOW, Union of Concerned Scientists, USA
Christine SMITH, Xavier University of Louisiana, USA
Introduction: The role of faith and spirituality in medical decisions has been under-theorized in contemporary medical research. This has had a particular impact on patients of color who are more likely to rely on spirituality or religion in making major treatment decisions. Furthermore, how complementary or Eastern therapies might be used synergistically within these belief systems to better provide care for cancer care treatment side-effects has been unexamined.

Methods: This study uses a two-pronged approach to examine the role of religiosity in African-American cancer survivors and caregivers in the U.S. and to explore the possibility that complementary therapies may offer more culturally appropriate care options. Based on focus groups with African-American cancer survivors and caregivers in the American South, results suggest that faith and spirituality still play a major role in treatment decisions made by this racial/ethnic group. By combining focus group data with a systematic review on the use of complementary therapies to cope with the side-effects of chemotherapy for communities of color in the United States, we hope to theoretically and empirically link these two fields.

Results & Discussion:  Thirteen focus groups with 123 participants were conducted between 2011 and 2013.  Study participants commented on the centrality of churches in their communities, and the importance of one’s faith in guiding medical decisions.  Some participants discussed the practice of relying on both their physicians and faith to hope for the best outcome.  The systematic review explored the literature on complementary therapies for dealing with side-effects of chemotherapy. Findings are currently being analyzed but suggest the need for greater attention to complementary medicine for communities of color.

Conclusion: Understanding strong ties to faith and spirituality could help inform how eastern medicine can be used to complement western medicine, and sometimes, could be more appropriate for reaching African American cancer survivors.