Where Do Nurses, Doctors, and Complementary Therapists Get Their Cancer Information?


A recent study compared the information-seeking methods of nurses, doctors, and complementary therapists, and found one underlying theme.

Although doctors, oncology nurses, and complementary therapists all have slightly different methods and resources to seek information, the majority of all these professionals turn to evidence-based literature, according to a recent study published in BMC Health Services Research.1

The team — comprised of researchers from The Arctic University of Norway and Wake Forest School of Medicine, Department of Epidemiology and Prevention, Division of Public Health Services – sought to compare how conventional healthcare providers (oncologists, oncology nurses, and family physicians) and complementary therapists (acupuncturists, reflexologists, and massage therapists) look for information on conventional and complementary cancer treatments.

“To provide safe cancer care, it is important that advice about complementary modalities is based on current and evidence-based evaluations,” the study authors wrote.

A total of 466 healthcare professionals filled out questionnaires that had 7 themes: inclusion, communication, risk in clinical practice, perception about complementary and conventional treatment modalities, information seeking about complementary therapies and conventional medicine, demographics, and clinical practice or hospital work.

In the questions about information sources, the questionnaires provided 3 categories of possible answers: evidence-based literature, which included guidelines, medical databases, online resources, professional conferences/seminars, and professional associations; non-evidence-based literature, which included family and friends, media and cancer centers or organizations; and colleagues.

“Generally, each professional group searched for evidence-based information about conventional and complementary cancer treatment to a larger degree than relying on potentially non-evidence-based information and information from colleagues,” the study authors wrote.

Medical doctors (96%; n=137) were the most likely to gather information from evidence-based literature — mainly practice guidelines – followed by oncology nurses (81%; n=72), acupuncturists (79%; n=119), reflexologists (54%; n = 19), and massage therapists (54%; n=44).

However, The majority of nurses (70%) also reported gathering information from non-evidence-based literature, followed by acupuncturists (69%), massage therapists (51%), reflexologists (43%), and medical doctors (37%).

More than half of medical doctors (58%) reported asking colleagues for information, while 64% of nurses reported doing the same.

The researchers emphasized the importance of healthcare providers practicing evidence-based medicine, which was defined as, “the conscientious, explicit, and judicious use of current best evidence in making decisions about the care of the individual patient. It means integrating individual clinical experience with the best available external clinical evidence from systematic research.”2

The researchers noted that it is important that advice about complementary modalities is based on current evidence-based evaluations to provide safe cancer care, adding that their study “demonstrates that since the term evidence-based medicine was first introduced in 1991, the approach has grown extensively and both conventional and complementary providers use this approach to seek information.”


  • Stub T., Quandt SA, Arcury TA, et al. Conventional and complementary cancer treatments: Where do conventional and complementary providers seek information about these modalities? BMC Health Services Research. 2018;18:854;doi: 10.1186/s12913-018-36749.
  • Sackett DL, Rosenberg WM, Gray AM, et al. Evidence based medicine: What it is and what it isn’t? BMJ. 1996;312;doi:10.1136/bmj.317023.71.

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