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Cancer Health Center

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Supplements OK for Cancer Survivors?

Three-Fourths of Older Cancer Survivors Take Supplements; Researchers Advise Caution

Supplements OK for Cancer Survivors?

While dietary supplements may help fill in nutrients lacking in a person's diet -- particularly in the diets of seniors, which can fall short -- Snyder warns that risks are also associated with supplement use.

"I'm recommending that people not self-supplement," Snyder tells WebMD. The supplements may backfire in preventing cancer recurrence, she says.

For instance, she writes in the paper, calcium intakes of 1,500 milligrams or more a day may be associated with an increased risk of aggressive prostate cancer.

And research has found that those at high risk of getting lung cancer aren't helped by a combination of beta-carotene and vitamin A and in fact had increased lung cancer incidence, she says.

The American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund recommend against supplements to protect against cancer.

The bottom line, Snyder says: "Talk to your doctor or meet with a registered dietitian, someone who can help you evaluate whether you need a supplement or not."

Supplements for Cancer Survivors: Use Caution

Having a conversation with your health care professional about whether you need a supplement or not is wise, whether you are a cancer survivor or not, says Len Lichtenfeld, MD, deputy chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society.

Because the people in the study were all five years removed from their cancer diagnosis, he says, "there is no need to treat cancer survivors at this point in their journey any differently" than non-survivors.

Even so, he recommends talking to your doctor or other health care professional to be sure, for instance, that the supplements you want to take won't adversely affect your medications.

More study is needed on supplement use among survivors, he says. "What isn't known is supplement use's effect on cancer relapse; that is up in the air."

Many of the supplements taken by the survivors, such as multivitamins, calcium, vitamin D and fish oil, probably pose little risk when not taken in large doses, says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. "If you really think you need a supplement, you probably can't go wrong taking a multivitamin, calcium and D, and fish oil. But if you are eating two to three fish servings a week, you probably don't need the fish oil."

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