Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is used by pediatric patients with cancer, but the actual frequency of CAM use is undetermined.


In this systematic review we summarize the current evidence on the prevalence of CAM use in pediatric patients with cancer and assess the reported quality of included studies.


We systematically searched 6 major electronic databases, reference lists of existing reviews, and personal files. We included full articles about primary research studies (without language restriction) that reported the prevalence of CAM use if all or a defined subsample of participants were pediatric patients with cancer. Detailed information regarding methods and results was extracted from the original articles. A quality-assessment tool was rigorously developed on the basis of the Strengthening the Reporting of Observational Studies in Epidemiology (STROBE) statement and used to assess reported study quality. Formal tests of interrater agreement were conducted.


We included 28 studies with survey data (collected from 1975 to 2005) from 3526 children. In 20 studies with 2871 participants, the prevalence of any CAM use (since cancer diagnosis) ranged from 6% to 91%; considerable heterogeneity across studies precluded meta-analysis. Study quality was mixed and not correlated with CAM prevalence. Herbal remedies were the most popular CAM modality, followed by diets/nutrition and faith-healing. Commonly reported reasons for CAM use included to help cure or fight the child's cancer, symptomatic relief, and support of ongoing use of conventional therapy. There was little evidence of an association between CAM use and patients' sociodemographic characteristics.


Many pediatric patients with cancer use CAM. It is important that pediatricians be aware of this fact and encourage open communication with patients and their parents. Using standardized survey methods and CAM definitions in future studies could improve their quality and help generate comparable data. Our quality-assessment tool could prove valuable for other reviews of prevalence studies.

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