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If you’re among the 1.5 million people in the United States diagnosed with cancer each year, you may be considering taking vitamins and supplements for cancer. Supplements, herbs, and extracts are increasingly used in integrative medicine to:

  1. Help strengthen the immune system
  2. Help ease side effects of chemotherapy and radiation.

What should you know about vitamins and supplements for cancer patients?

First, many supplements may interfere with your cancer treatment, so never take anything without discussing it with your cancer doctor and treatment team. Your cancer treatment center or hospital may have an integrative medicine division. That’s a good place to start if you want to know what herbs, teas, or nutritional supplements can help you stay strong and cope with treatment side effects.

Second, research or ask your treatment team about the best supplements for your specific situation. Most supplements have not been studied extensively in large clinical trials. It’s important to choose wisely, and be informed.

1. Maintaining a Strong Immune System When You Have Cancer

The complicated relationship between immune system functioning and cancer is often misunderstood, according to Tim Birdsall, ND, the vice president of integrative medicine at Cancer Treatment Centers of America and a member of the National Advisory Council for Complementary and Alternative Medicine for the National Institutes of Health.

Your immune system is designed to recognize and destroy abnormal cells. But in many instances, especially in early stage cancers, the surface markers on cancerous cells are identical to those on normal cells, making it impossible for your immune system to recognize them as a threat.

Although boosting your immune system isn’t an actual treatment for cancer, it’s incredibly important as you fight cancer. Cancer patients are susceptible to infection from the disease, as well as from treatments that destroy white blood cells.

“Infection is a huge issue to cancer patients,” Birdsall says. “It is important to do things to boost the immune system and reduce the likelihood of infection.”

Here are supplements, vitamins, and extracts you may hear about to help boost the immune system.

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