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Southern Medical Journal:
Featured CME Topic: Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Approach to Communicating with Patients About the Use of Nutritional Supplements in Cancer Care

Frenkel, Moshe MD; Ben-Arye, Eran MD; Baldwin, Constance D. PHD; Sierpina, Victor MD

Continued Medical Education
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Abstract

In recent years, complementary and alternative medicine has become popular among the general population in the Western world. Cancer patients have joined this global trend, often seeking supplements to conventional oncologic care, usually without their physicians’ knowledge. Among the most common forms of complementary and alternative medicine used by cancer patients are natural products such as herbs and megavitamins. The extensive use of nutritional supplements by cancer patients raises multiple questions and challenges for the physician. Since there are limited scientific data on the efficacy and safety of many nutritional supplements, advising patients about when to use them during the course of illness is difficult. This is true for each stage of cancer care: prevention, acute active care (radiation, chemotherapy, surgery), and post-acute care (follow-up visits and prevention of recurrence). The authors describe a patient-centered approach to the use of nutritional supplements in cancer care.

Key Points

* Nutritional supplement use is popular among patients who are concerned about cancer care.

* The extensive use of nutritional supplements by patients with cancer raises multiple questions and challenges for the physician.

* A patient-centered approach to the use of nutritional supplements in cancer care is suggested; this approach makes use of all available scientific data relating to safety and efficacy of these supplements, combined with an open discussion with the patients about their needs and expectations.

© 2005 Southern Medical Association

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