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Are Supplements Effective and Safe for Prostate Cancer Patients?

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Published on February 16, 2018

Using supplements tends to become a gray area, but are they helpful or harmful for patients to use during prostate cancer treatment? Prostate cancer experts, Dr. Celestia Higano from the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, and Dr. Tomasz Beer from OHSU Knight Cancer Institute, share research-based recommendations on the safe use of supplements. They also discuss the supplement industry regulations, and the influence of a healthy diet and exercise on a prostate cancer condition.

This is a Patient Empowerment Network program produced by Patient Power in partnership with Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. We thank Astellas and Sanofi for their support.

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Transcript | Are Supplements Effective and Safe for Prostate Cancer Patients?

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That's how you’ll get care that's most appropriate for you.

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

Jeff Folloder:

What about people who are trying to treat their own cancer with diet and supplements? Is that something you bless, you—deter? What’s your take on taking saw palmetto and things like that?

Dr. Higano:          

Don’t get me started on that. It depends on the diet, it depends on the supplements. I’m all for anything that helps a person get through the day and feel good about their lives and all that stuff, but we don’t have great evidence for any of the supplements because if we did, we’d be using them. As a matter of fact, most people don’t know this, but there’s no regulation of the supplement industry. And so, something that says, for example, it has saw palmetto in it might not have any saw palmetto in it. Does that surprise you?

Jeff Folloder:     

No, it doesn’t surprise me.

Dr. Higano:          

So it doesn’t surprise you, but it might surprise some members of your audience. So I hesitate to encourage supplements for treating cancer, or diet alone for treating cancer, because there’s no evidence that that works. 

Jeff Folloder:     

Okay. However, you know people are going to use them anyway. So I’m guessing that each and every one of you want to know if your patients are using them.

Dr. Higano:          

Absolutely. 

 

Jeff Folloder:     

Okay. So if you’re going to use a supplement, if you’re going to go with a specific diet, your care team over here wants to know exactly what you’re putting in your body and how you’re putting it in your body.

Dr. Higano:          

There’s actually times when we will specifically ask people to withhold their supplements, because we feel that they can actually interfere with the cancer therapy. So that’s why it’s important to know. We’re not going to criticize anybody for whatever they’re taking.

If we know, then we can handle potential conflicts, if you will. So we want to know all those—I mean, we have some patients who have a list of about 50 supplements long.

Dr. Beer:                

Can I jump in with a comment?

Jeff Folloder:     

Please.

Dr. Beer:                

I do want to draw a clear distinction between supplements and a healthy diet. 

Jeff Folloder:     

And that’s where I was going, so you read my mind. 

Dr. Higano:          

Absolutely.

Dr. Beer:                

Obesity and being overweight is extraordinarily common nowadays. We know that that’s associated with an increased risk of developing cancer. We don’t have, as Tia said, great data that after a cancer diagnosis, there’s a significant impact of those things, but I can’t help but believe that eating a healthy diet that’s rich in fruits and vegetables—perhaps closer to the Mediterranean diet—and that’s calorically appropriate, and regular exercises are not important for cancer survivorship. 

So I think that’s important—healthy diets are important. The supplements are a more difficult issue because we don’t have very much evidence, and they’re not tightly controlled, and so forth, but no question that there’s an opportunity for people to take charge of their health through a healthy diet.

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

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