The last in this cancer-supplements series hones in on dangerous blood vessel clots, a suppressed immune system, the use of phytoestrogens, and, most importantly — my “bottom-line recommendations.” If you read anything, please read that.
First, patients with cancer have the tendency to form clots in their blood vessels. Traditional hormone treatment used for breast and prostate cancer may further aggravate this condition. The drug tamoxifen has been shown to increase the risk of this, thromboembolism, in breast cancer patients. This risk is further enhanced in patients on tamoxifen if the patient has a surgical procedure, has suffered a fracture, or has become physically inactive.
Chemotherapeutic drugs such as estramustine and thalidomide have been associated with an increased risk of thromboembolic events in prostate cancer, multiple myeloma, and renal cell carcinoma. Up to 30% of cancer patients given thalidomide plus other chemotherapy may suffer a thromboembolic event. Therefore, some doctors routinely prescribe a blood thinner (e.g. warfarin, heparin) in cases when thalidomide is used. Erythropoietic growth factor, a drug used in boosting the anemic state in cancer patients, has also been associated with an increased risk of thromboembolism.
Now the immune system. Cancer patients often use dietary supplements with the intent of boosting the immune system. However, the immune system is affected differently depending on the type of cancer. In general, chemotherapy and radiotherapy suppress the immune system. For the above reasons, it is unwise to take a supplement that is known to suppress the immune system. That includes these three, which have been identified as suppressing the immune system: echinacea, green tea, and ginger.
How about phytoestrogens, the natural substances in plants that mimic the effects of human estrogen? Herbs with these actions are of particular concern in patients with breast, ovarian, endometrial or prostate cancers, because these are hormone-sensitive cancers. Phytoestrogens are the most controversial of all the dietary supplements with hormonal activity, as they can change hormone levels. When it comes to food, you find phytoestrogens in flaxseed, alfalfa sprouts, clover, and soybeans. Soy supplements have been shown to stimulate breast tissue in several studies.
Therefore, it is unwise for patients with breast cancer to take soy supplements. Likewise, the use of phytoestrogens is discouraged in patients with endometrial cancer, even though the risk is low. With regards to the use of phytoestrogens in prostate cancer, there is less controversy since it is known that phytoestrogen intake might in fact reduce the risk of prostate cancer in men. Asian men have a decreased incidence of prostate cancer, the result of a diet with higher phytoestrogen contents.
My bottom-line recommendations:
1. Self treatment in cancer should be avoided at all cost.
2. Before using any dietary supplement, it is wise to ask your doctor or nutritionist.
3. Be sure your doctor knows about all the dietary supplements you are currently taking.
4. Keep yourself informed about dietary supplements and cancer treatments.
5. Buy your dietary supplements from reputable companies.