Over the last several year or so, a number of people have posted information about various supplements they favor, both for general health and, occasionally, as specific alternative remedies meant to bolster cancer treatment or prevention. A number of our mesothelioma warriors have used yoga or stretching regimens to aid in post-surgical tissue relaxation, and others employ meditation or focused cognition to aid in mood and pain management. These non-invasive techniques have conferred varying levels of positive results, and pose no particular interactive problems with standard oncology therapy. Others, however, use one or more complementary therapies (e.g., naturopathy, homeopathy) or supplements (e.g., ginseng, green tea extracts), which could cause interactions with standard treatment if the proper care is not taken. Here, we provide some reference material to help anyone considering using such therapies or supplements.
A wealth of reputable and relevant information is easily available. For example, the professionals at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) have a botanical expert pharmacist who monitors current science regarding herbs, botanicals, and other supplements. This is part of MSKCC’s Integrative Medicine Services. More information is available here.
TALK TO YOUR PHYSICIAN
Some herbs and dietary supplements are known to be detrimental to standard cancer treatment efficacy. One thing all reliable sources agree upon is that, before you start using any form of supplement or complementary medical treatment, you should tell your physician what you are considering.
MSKCC writes: “It’s important to tell your doctor or another qualified professional that you are using a dietary supplement. The reason for this is that an active ingredient in the product could interact with — increase or lessen — the effect of other medicines you’re taking. People undergoing treatment for cancer should not receive any dietary supplements unless they’re prescribed by a doctor or given as part of a clinical trial that’s received [IRB] approval.”
NCI, in its Complimentary Alternative Medicine material, agrees: “Tell your doctor if you’re taking any dietary supplements, no matter how safe you think they are. This is very important. Even though there may be ads or claims that something has been used for years, they do not prove that it’s safe or effective.”
MD Anderson is in line in this herbal supplements article: “[Y]ou should approach herbal supplements with caution and speak with your doctor before taking any, whether you’re considering a pill, capsule, tablet or liquid form.”
DO NOT RELY SOLELY ON LABELS OR PRODUCT CLAIMS
The second important thing each of these expert facilities makes clear is that supplements – including herbs, vitamins, manufactured powdered weight controls, steroids, and all other over-the-counter materials are unregulated. The FDA treats supplements as foods. This means it does not verify any label claims (other than prohibiting specific disease prevention assertions). These materials are not subjected to clinical trials as they are understood in pharmaceutical development, and there is no control over additives, purity or the production methods.
Some manufacturers’ studies assert benefits in cancer treatment from use of their supplements. However, these are not the randomized, double blind studies we know as the gold standard for scientific study of new therapies. NCI and the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health have begun clinical trials on a limited number of complementary therapies, but that data is still in development. The list and overview of these studies is available here.
If your research and medical team’s review lead you to try any of the hundreds of supplements advertised as health support, it is sensible to begin with a minimum dose. If the herb or compound neither helps nor hurts, you can slowly increase the amount or frequency of use. A measured approach will give you, and the physicians checking your blood analyses and scans, a better opportunity to detect any adverse effects before they become severe. Similarly, you can determine whether positive effects are amplified by increased dosage.
The following resources can provide you with additional information:
- Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Cancer Institute
- Dietary Supplements information from the Food and Drug Administration
- Online Cancer Fraud information from the Food and Drug Administration
- Complementary and Integrative Medicine at MD Anderson
- Reviews of Complementary Therapies at MD Anderson
- Integrative Medicine at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
- Herbal Supplements information at the Mayo Clinic
To read more about complementary and alternative medicine pertaining to mesothelioma patients, click here.