Use of dietary supplements by people living with and without cancer



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New research indicates that many people living with and beyond cancer use dietary supplements, often with the belief that the products will reduce the risk of the cancer coming back. Posted by Wiley online in Cancer, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, the findings reveal a need for healthcare professionals to provide advice and guidance to patients on the appropriate use of dietary supplements.

Cancer prevention guidelines recommend a healthy diet and physical activity, but do not recommend dietary supplements, as relevant clinical trials have generally not shown any benefit – and in some cases have shown harmful effects – associated to the products.

To explore factors associated with the use of dietary supplements in cancer survivors, Rana Conway, Ph.D., RNutr, of University College London (UCL), and her colleagues studied 1,049 adults who had received a diagnosis of breast, prostate or colorectal cancer in the UK. People who participated in this study were enrolled in the Cancer Research UK-funded Advancing Survival Cancer Outcomes trial, jointly led by Abi Fisher, Ph.D., UCL, and Rebecca Beeken, Ph.D. , University of Leeds. Participants completed a mail survey and dietary reviews by phone or online that included questions about dietary supplements.

Among the main findings:

  • 40% of the participants took food supplements.
  • 19% of participants believed that dietary supplements could reduce the risk of cancer coming back.
  • Women, participants who followed the recommendations of five fruits and vegetables a day, and those who thought dietary supplements were important in reducing the risk of cancer recurring were more likely to use dietary supplements.
  • Obese participants were less likely to use dietary supplements.
  • Fish oils were the most commonly used dietary supplement, taken by 13% of participants.
  • Calcium with or without vitamin D was the most common supplement used by people with breast cancer, taken by 15%.

“We found that one in five people who had been treated for cancer mistakenly believed that taking vitamins or other supplements would help reduce the risk of their cancer coming back. were important in reducing their risk of cancer coming back were three times more likely to take them, “said Dr Conway.” As the number of people living with or beyond cancer increases, there is a growing need for ” a more holistic approach to long-term health care. Information on the role of supplements and the lack of evidence that they reduce cancer recurrence would be beneficial, as well as discussions on the benefits of healthy eating and physical activity.”

Martin Ledwick, RN, MSc, who is the chief information nurse at Cancer Research UK and was not an author of the study, agreed that the findings underscore the importance of talking to healthcare professionals when making decisions about cancer treatment and recovery. “There is no evidence that taking non-prescribed supplements can prevent cancer from coming back, and some vitamins or minerals could interfere with the effectiveness of anti-cancer drugs,” he said. “It is important for any cancer patient who is considering taking supplements to discuss this with their doctor, nurse, or dietitian.”

Dr Conway and his co-authors noted that the UK has different regulations and availability of supplements than the US and other countries. Therefore, more studies are needed to assess the use of dietary supplements in cancer survivors living in other regions.

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More information:
Rana E. Conway et al, The use of dietary supplements by people living with and beyond breast, prostate and colorectal cancer: a cross-sectional survey, Cancer (2021). DOI: 10.1002 / cncr.34055

Quote: Use of Dietary Supplements by People Living With and Beyond Cancer (2021, December 20) Retrieved December 20, 2021 from html

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