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Indigenous beliefs about biomedical and bush medicine treatment efficacy for indigenous cancer patients: a review of the literature

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Background:  Australia's Indigenous people suffer from higher cancer mortality than non‐Indigenous Australians, a discrepancy partly caused by differences in beliefs about treatment efficacy between Indigenous patients and their non‐Indigenous healthcare providers. This paper critically reviews the literature associated with Indigenous beliefs about cancer treatment, both ‘bush medicine’ and biomedical, in order to provide recommendations to healthcare providers about accommodating Indigenous beliefs when treating cancer.

Methods:  A search was undertaken of peer‐reviewed journal papers using electronic databases and citation snowballing. Papers were selected for inclusion based upon relevance to themes that addressed the research questions.

Results:  Literature suggests that Indigenous beliefs about treatment efficacy for cancer involve five themes: (i) concerns about the toxicity of treatment; (ii) disconnect with the physician; (iii) fears about absence from home during treatment; (iv) different beliefs about disease aetiology; (v) biomedical cancer treatments failing to address holistic health.

Conclusions:  Although some information is known about Indigenous Australian healing beliefs and practices associated with cancer treatment, few studies have addressed ways in which Indigenous and biomedical approaches to cancer treatment might be integrated. Some recent work has examined the role of belief in cancer treatment, specifically bush medicine, but more research is required.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Harvard University Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA, 2: Combined Universities Centre for Rural Health, Geraldton, Western Australia, Australia

Publication date: February 1, 2012


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