“It Seems like it’s Helping”: Complementary and Alternative Medicine Use among Breast Cancer Patients at a South African Breast Clinic





breast cancer, structural violence, complementary and alternative medicine, qualitative, South Africa


The use of complementary and alternative medicine in the treatment of breast cancer is widely documented in low- and middle-income countries. However, there are limited data on the use of complementary and alternative medicine among breast cancer patients in South Africa. In this study, we examined the use of complementary medicine among a small sample of women attending a breast cancer clinic in a public health hospital in the Western Cape, South Africa; a context in which structural violence is rife. A convenience sample of 17 women participated in semi-structured interviews. We used an interpretative phenomenological analysis approach. We found that breast cancer patients’ use of complementary and alternative medicine was motivated by (1) pragmatic reasons related to health system delays in obtaining biopsy results, confirmation of diagnosis and between diagnosis and start of treatment, (2) psychological benefits, namely, enhancing holistic well-being and fostering a sense of hope and agency despite the physical disease, and (3) sociocultural influences. Such information was based on folk knowledge and cultural beliefs. Patient-centred care in this context may be enhanced by collaboration between biomedical and practitioners who provide complementary and alternative medicine to support transparency in patient treatment options, negotiate the various domains of patient care (physical, psychological, sociocultural) and contribute to earlier detection, diagnosis and better treatment outcomes. In addition, further research on the systemic complexities of structural violence and the way in which it shapes the illness experiences of women is necessary.


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How to Cite

Githaiga, J., & Swartz, L. (2023). “It Seems like it’s Helping”: Complementary and Alternative Medicine Use among Breast Cancer Patients at a South African Breast Clinic. Social and Health Sciences, 21(1 and 2), 20 pages . https://doi.org/10.25159/2957-3645/12348