Objectives: To measure the frequency of use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) among patients with malignancy undergoing or following conventional treatment, to determine demographic characteristics associated with the use of CAM, and to find out how benefits, if any, were perceived by patients. Design: A 35-item survey questionnaire administered to 305 return patients with malignancy. Setting: Clinical wards of the Oncology and Haematology departments of Gulhane Military Medical Academy, Ankara, Turkey. Methods: Questionnaire-based measures of demographics, motives, expectations and effects of using CAM, and types and reported perceived benefits of CAM practised on patients with malignancy. Results: The majority of return patients (n = 186, 61.0%) used at least one CAM practice; and birthplace, educational status, and family type were significant factors in such behaviour. Conclusions: Patients with malignancy born in villages, having less education and living in large families were more likely to use folk medicine. More than half of those using CAM (n = 99, 53.2%) reported as benefits the feelings of either strengthening of the body, being in good psychological condition, or the disappearance of several symptoms. (C) 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.