Three out of four Italian cancer sufferers turn to alternative medicine to help them to alleviate the side effects of their conventional medical treatments, such as nausea, tiredness and stress.

These figures were revealed in a survey conducted by the University of Manchester and published in the magazine Annals of oncology.

Experts have warned that there is a danger that do-it-yourself cures may interfere with conventional ones and that patients should always tell their doctor if they are taking any alternative substances.

The majority of patients taking alternative cures drink infusions of green tea, burdock root, elm, rhubarb, ginger, sage, oxalis, chamomile or nettle as well as undergoing massage or acupuncture treatment.

In Europe 36 per cent of all cancer sufferers use alternative cures. The numbers vary from 14.8 per cent in Greece, the lowest number to 73.1 per cent in Italy, the highest.

When asked why they use alternative treatments, more than half of those questioned said that they hoped it would help their bodies fight the illness; but only 22 per cent of those questioned admitted to deriving any benefit from the cures followed.