Objective To study the risks of mortality and cancer incidence in physicians of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) who had frequent exposure to herbal medicine.
Methods A population-based cohort design was conducted in which a total of 7675 certified physicians of TCM who ever practised between 1985 and 2005 were compared with the age-, sex- and calendar year-specific mortalities and cancer incidence rates of the general population of Taiwan. The age-, sex- and calendar year-standardised mortality ratio (SMR) and standardised cancer incidence ratio (SIR) were calculated to estimate the relative risks of all causes and site-specific mortality and cancer incidence.
Results Over an up to 20-year observational period, 796 (10.4%) physicians of TCM died, and 279 (3.6%) developed cancer. The study cohort showed a significantly reduced SMR for all-causes mortality (68, 95% CI 63 to 73), and for deaths from infectious (SMR=64), circulatory (SMR=68), respiratory (SMR=64) and digestive (SMR=56) disease. The study cohort also had a significantly reduced SIR (80, 95% CI 71 to 90) for all cancers, and for neoplasm of rectum, rectosigmoid junction, and anus (SIR=45), female breast (SIR=30) and cervix uteri (SIR=10). On the other hand, we noted that physicians of TCM suffered from a significantly increased SIR for neoplasm of liver and intrahepatic bile ducts (SIR=151, 95% CI 116 to 192) and of bladder cancer (SIR=259, 95% CI 167 to 382).
Conclusion Like other healthcare workers, we noted that physicians of TCM had significantly reduced risks of all-causes mortality and cancer incidence. Nonetheless, reasons truly responsible for significantly increased risks of liver and bladder neoplasm among physicians of TCM warrant further investigations.
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C-YL and T-NW contributed equally to this study.
Funding This study was supported by a grant from National Scientific Council, Taiwan (NSC 95-2314-B-030-002).
Competing interests None.
Ethics approval Ethics approval was provided by the Taiwan Chinese Medical Association and the Department of Health, Taiwan.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.
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