Study Finds Widespread Vitamin and Mineral Use Among Cancer Survivors

Use of vitamin and mineral supplements among cancer survivors is widespread, according to a comprehensive review of scientific literature conducted by researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and recently published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. In reviewing 32 studies conducted between 1999 and 2006, senior author Cornelia (Neli) Ulrich, Ph.D., an associate member of the Hutchinson Center’s Public Health Sciences Division, and co-author Christine Velicer, Ph.D., formerly a postdoctoral fellow at the Hutchinson Center (now an epidemiologist at Merck Research Laboratory in North Wales, Pa.), found that many of the nation’s 10 million adult cancer survivors use nutritional supplements.   They found 64 percent to 81 percent of cancer survivors overall reported using vitamins or minerals (excluding multivitamins), whereas in the general population only 50 percent of adults reported taking dietary supplements. Survivors of breast cancer reported the highest use (75 percent to 87 percent), whereas prostate-cancer survivors reported the least (26 percent to 35 percent). Factors associated with the highest level of supplement use overall included a higher level of education and being female. The researchers also found that many people initiate the use of vitamins and supplements after cancer diagnosis; between 14 percent and 32 percent start taking them after learning they have cancer. “Cancer survivors report that they hope to strengthen their immune system with supplement use or gain a sense of control and empowerment,” Ulrich said. However, many cancer survivors who use supplements do not let their doctors know; 31 percent to 68 percent of cancer patients and survivors who use supplements may not disclose this information or their doctors may fail to record it in their charts. “This is disconcerting and suggests that many physicians may not recognize the importance of understanding whether their patients are taking supplements,” Ulrich said. Knowing about supplement use is crucial, she continues, because of potential effects. The authors urge health care professionals to communicate openly with their patients about supplement use to determine the best course of action for the patient’s particular situation. Editor’s Note: Physicians need to understand how supplements and other compounds can actually support and help their patients. They are in a difficult spot and many times don’t really want to know. There is much research out there supporting the use of supplements and various nutriceuticals, but for legal and medical board reasons they simply say across the board to most patients to stop using all things until their treatments are done. So the patient is left to fend for themselves and take matters into their own hands when it comes to their treatments. Case in point, look at all cancer treatments combined and the relatively low success rate they really have. There has to be a better way.