Cancer Patients Use Alternative Meds

New research suggests that 1/3 of patients with a cancer diagnosis use complementary and alternative medicine. This includes areas, such as meditation, yoga, acupuncture, and herbal medicine and supplements.  Dr. Nina Sanford, assistant professor of radiation oncology (specializing in cancers of the gastrointestinal tract) at the UT Southwestern Medical Center, presented these findings in the JAMA Oncology journal.

According to Dr. Sanford’s research, herbal medications/supplements make up the most common alternative, with acupuncture or osteopathic manipulation being the second most popular. Further, younger patients and women are more likely to take the herbal supplements and medications.

However, 29% of the users of these meds did NOT tell their physicians that they were taking them. When asked WHY, they responded that either their doctors did not ask them or they did not think it was something that their doctors needed to know. This finding is quite disconcerting because the use of these meds during conventional cancer treatments (such as chemo or radiation) could ‘alter’ or completely ‘throw off’ the effects from these therapies. For example, high doses of vitamin C could interfere with certain chemo treatments.

Patients need to be better educated about the potential effects from mixing alternative meds with conventional treatments. And, practitioners need to be reminded to ALWAYS inquire about other medication uses. The Mayo Clinic ( suggests some alternative treatments that would be helpful for relieving the side effects from some cancer treatments.

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