Cancer patients should beware of supplement use, try nontraditional remedies

Tuesday, June 9, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 5:25 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Does alternative medicine help cancer patients?

Most herbal and dietary supplements have not been tested rigorously enough to say whether they can help or harm cancer prevention or treatment. Some nontraditional approaches, however, show promise for easing symptoms.

Scientists generally agree on these:


  • Massage
  • Mind-body techniques — meditation, hypnosis, relaxation techniques, cognitive-behavioral therapy, biofeedback, guided imagery
  • Ginger capsules for chemotherapy nausea
  • Yoga, tai chi
  • Music and art therapy
  • Acupuncture for certain types of nausea, pain, dry mouth and possibly hot flashes


  • High doses of vitamins E, A (beta carotene), and possibly C
  • Laetrile
  • Chaparral
  • Shark cartilage
  • Pau d'arco
  • PC-SPES, an herbal concoction for prostate health


  • St. John's wort (lowers effectiveness of many medicines)
  • Fish oil, garlic, ginger, gingko, feverfew (bleeding risk)
  • Magnesium and thiazide (bad with cisplatin and similar cancer drugs)
  • Red clover, dong quai, licorice (hormonal risk for women on aromatase inhibitors after breast cancer)
  • Folic acid (interferes with the cancer drug methotrexate)

Sources: Society for Integrative Oncology, American Dietetic Association, various federal agency Web sites, AP interviews.


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