Thursday, January 8, 2015

Cancer Docs, Patients and Herbs, Supplements

Many physicians cite a lack of knowledge as a primary reason, survey finds
By Mary Elizabeth Dallas, HealthDay Reporter
MONDAY, Jan. 5, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Despite concerns about potentially dangerous interactions between cancer treatments and herbs and other supplements, most cancer doctors don't talk to their patients about these products, new research found.
Fewer than half of cancer doctors -- oncologists -- bring up the subject of herbs or supplements with their patients, the researchers found. Many doctors cited their own lack of information as a major reason why they skip that conversation.
"Lack of knowledge about herbs and supplements, and awareness of that lack of knowledge is probably one of the reasons why oncologists don't initiate the discussion," said the study's author, Dr. Richard Lee, medical director of the Integrative Medicine Program at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
"It's really about getting more research out there and more education so oncologists can feel comfortable having these conversations," Lee said.
The study was published recently in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
People with cancer often turn to herbs and other dietary supplements in an attempt to improve their health and cope with their symptoms, according to background information in the study.
Although herbs and supplements are often viewed as "natural," they contain active ingredients that might cause harmful interactions with standard cancer treatments. Some supplements can cause skin reactions when taken by patients receiving radiation treatment, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). Herbs and supplements can also affect how chemotherapy drugs are absorbed and metabolized by the body, according to the ACS.
St. John's wort, Panax ginseng and green tea supplements are among those that can produce potentially dangerous interactions with chemotherapy, according to the study.
For the current survey, the researchers asked almost 400 oncologists about their views and knowledge of supplements. The average age of those who responded was 48 years. About three-quarters of them were men, and about three-quarters were white, the study noted.
The specialists polled talked about supplements with 41 percent of their patients. However, doctors initiated only 26 percent of these discussions, the researchers found.