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Treated For Cancer? Study Discourages Antioxidant Supplements

Posted by Jane Akre
Tuesday, June 09, 2009 11:22 AM EST
Category: Major Medical, Protecting Your Family
Tags: Cancer Treatment, Vitamins, Antioxidants, Radiation, Chemotherapy, Breast Cancer

The best diet while being treated for cancer is still controversial, but this study suggests patients may want to stop  their antioxidant supplementation.
Breast Cancer Survivors/© iStockphoto

To Supplement Or Not?



IMAGE SOURCE: © iStockPhoto / Breast Cancer Survivors / author: JBryson


Being treated for cancer generally means preparing your body for the fight of your life.

So supplements, especially antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, beta carotene, or selenium would be on the list of vitamins to take.  

Don’t do that, say oncologists in this study. 

A new study found 61 percent of breast cancer patients were taking antioxidant supplements that may reduce the effectiveness of radiation therapy and chemotherapy.  

What’s more, they may actually provide a protective effect to the cancers cells that are attacking the body, though no one really knows for sure. 

The controversy is laid out in the journal Cancer. 

Heather Greenlee, with Columbia University where she is an assistant professor of epidemiology and a medical oncologist, says there may be some level of antioxidants that should not be exceeded. Most taking supplementation do so at levels higher than found in a multivitamin. 

Green tea extract has been found to interfere with the effects of the cancer drug Velcade.

Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center tells cancer patients to skip the supplements entirely, including daily multivitamins.

The Controversy

Some believe antioxidants supplement the healthy tissues while not undermining radiation and chemo.  Almost everyone agrees that a healthy diet, full of fruits and vegetables, should be consumed by someone undergoing treatment for cancer.

Doctors are rarely trained in nutrition. Be sure to tell your doctor what supplements and medications you are taking.  Unfortunately consumers are largely on their own at a time they desperately need support.

Diet & Cancer Resources- The Cancer Project

Dr. Neal Barnard is one medical doctor who has written extensively about diet and health promotion.   Known for his no-meat, no-dairy approach for a healthy diet through the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), Barnard, founded The Cancer Project to make cancer prevention a top priority as well as dietary considerations while being treated.

Through books, classes and videos, The Cancer Project has helped cancer survivors learn new food tastes and preparation skills.  The Web site contains healthy recipes made with grains, legumes, fruit and vegetables.

PCRM reports that at least one-third of the annual deaths from cancer are due to dietary factors and that vegetarians are 40 percent less likely to develop cancer when compared to meat eaters.

Only about one-third of adults seats fruit at least twice a day and a quarter eat vegetables at least three times daily according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The China Study has shown that low cancer rates exist among those on a low-fat, plant-based diet.

American Institute for Cancer Research

AICR provides information on avoiding cancer that may also apply while one is being treated.   Avoiding smoking is always at the top of the list of cancer avoidance, but adding exercise, maintaining a healthier weight, and consuming better foods also top the list.  Once can check their weight by measuring their Body-Mass Index, which is a mathematical calculation to see if you are overweight or obese.

The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) and the World Cancer Research Fund, based in the U.K. finds that lifestyle changes are simple and may be able to prevent about 38 percent of breast cancer and 45 percent of bowel cancers in the U.S., though accurately targeting a reduction in risk is always a guesstimate.

Other policy recommendations from AICR include:

·         Schools should encourage exercise and provide healthy food

·         Schools should ban junk food from vending machines

·         Health professionals should provide more information about healthy living and cancer prevention

·         People should use nutrition guides and food labels to buy healthier foods for their families

·         Work 20-30 minutes of exercise into your daily routine at least four days a week

American Society of Clinical Oncology

ASCO reminds us that vitamin D deficiency has been linked to a poor outcome for patients with early breast cancer. Several in vitro studies have shown that antioxidants, including vitamin E, may protect against cancer.  

ASCO also reports that patients taking antioxidant vitamins had less severe effects from radiation therapy, though the study agrees that high doses of antioxidants might compromise radiation efficacy. #  


Posted by Krista Haynes
Tuesday, June 09, 2009 3:20 PM EST

With at least one-third of cancer deaths attributed to poor eating habits, and vegetarians 40 percent less likely to develop cancer, one might think a change in diet would be the cure. Unfortunately, each diagnosis is unique and the strategy for treatment is individualized. However, diet is an important place to start. Today, it’s easy to be misled into thinking that the answer to any medical concern comes in pill form. But as a dietitian with The Cancer Project, I like to recommend food as medicine. I support the study in its findings that antioxidants naturally found in plant-based foods do not pose any additional risk and may benefit those going through treatment. By consuming foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, you are consuming a healthy dose of antioxidants compared to the higher levels found in supplements. Following a plant-based diet also eliminates the high amounts of saturated fat that lead to increased levels of estrogen, a known “fuel” for hormone-sensitive cancer cells. Vegetarians are also more likely to have a healthy weight, which reduces the risk of obesity-related cancers.

Posted by Elwood Richard
Tuesday, June 09, 2009 5:00 PM EST

Helpful informnation on reducing healthcare cost risks for cancer is on the website of the Natural Health Research Inst at LINK This is from peer reviewed research abstracted into reader friendly language by writers with technical degrees.

Elwood Richard, Treasurer

Posted by Jane Akre
Wednesday, June 10, 2009 2:01 PM EST

Thank you for your comments.

In trying to research nutrition during cancer treatment, it's appauling how little information is available from mainstream publications that most people would readily access.

Any and all resources are welcome to add their voices here- and thank you!!!

Posted by michael
Tuesday, July 14, 2009 8:33 AM EST

So as I see it take vitamins and supplements like vitamin c and e and selenium during your lifetime. However if you get cancer and are treated then you should consult your doctor before taking any supplements.

Anonymous User
Posted by Patrick Massey MD, PhD
Tuesday, July 14, 2009 3:27 PM EST

The study showed that 61% of patients taking supplements. That means nothing by itself. What were the clinical outcomes...did those taking supplements have poorer or better outcomes? Again...medical research that does nothing to clarify the issue...and is used only to create fear.

Comments for this article are closed.

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