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Ask Patients About Their Use of Dietary Supplements


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A study finding that that patients who use antioxidant supplements, iron, and vitamin B12, before and during chemotherapy may be at increased risk of breast cancer recurrence and mortality confirms concerns about the use of these supplements. It also “absolutely reinforces the importance of asking patients about their supplement use,” Kathy S. Albain, MD, FACP, FASCO, a senior author of the study, told The ASCO Post. Dr. Albain is Professor of Medicine, Division of Hematology/Oncology, Loyola University, Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, and Huizenga Family Endowed Chair in Oncology Research, Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, Loyola University Medical Center.

‘Have to Be a Detective’

Dr. Albain noted that in her practice, the nurse practitioner, who knows how important it is to ask about supplements, will often report after meeting with a patient that the patient responded “no” when asked about supplement use. “Then I will go in there and ask in three different ways about supplement use, and finally it comes out. You have to be a detective sometimes. Not that patients are ashamed of taking supplements—they just don’t always think of it as something they should report because it is so common.”

Although there have been numerous suggestions in the literature over the past few years about dietary supplements reducing the efficacy of cancer treatment, with the new study, “now we have something more robust that is telling you that it probably is not wise to do that,” Dr. Albain said. “Why do something that could potentially make all the treatments that you are going through work less well and make your cancer come back faster? That is the message for patients.” 


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