University of Toronto Magazine University of Toronto Magazine

Mixing Therapies Can Hurt

Natural-health products and may cause adverse reactions with cancer treatments

Almost one-third of Ontario men with prostate cancer receive complementary medicine in addition to conventional cancer treatments, according to a U of T study. These results are a wake-up call to clinicians who think that elderly men (those most likely to have prostate cancer) are unlikely to use alternative treatments, says Prof. Heather Boon of U of T’s Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, and the lead author of the study published in the journal Urology.

The random-sample survey of 696 Ontario men diagnosed with prostate cancer found that almost 30 per cent use complementary medicine. About 26 per cent of those take natural-health products – commonly, vitamin E, saw palmetto, lycopene, selenium and green tea – in an attempt to manage their cancer.

There is potential for adverse interactions, warns Boon. For example, taking vitamin E (an antioxidant) may diminish the effectiveness of radiation treatments and chemotherapy. Clinicians need to be aware that people of both genders and all ages use complementary medicine, and that they need to discuss alternative therapies with their patients, she says.

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