“Not all food and herbal supplements work, some can even worsen a cancer patient’s health condition, hence intake of such needs supervision from the attending physician”. This was the take-home message from the cancer experts of the Philippine Society of Medical Oncology (PSMO) during their lay forum with media practitioners and some cancer survivors on Wednesday, March 29.
The lay forum on holistic oncology primarily focused on understanding complementary and alternative medicine, where local press were invited to help educate the public about cancer prevention and treatment.
Standard medical care vs. complementary and alternative medicines (CAM)
Standard of care therapies have undergone clinical trials and years of testing before approval from various health agencies like the US and Philippine FDA (Food and Drug Administration), and European Medicines Agency (EMEA). These include mainstream treatments like surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.
On the contrary, complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) refer to medical products and practices that are not part of standard medical care. Alternative medicines refer to those typically promoted as a sole cancer treatment or a substitute for mainstream care. These have not been scientifically proven, often have no scientific foundation, and sometimes disproved. Complementary medicines, on the other hand, are unconventional treatment modalities and approaches that are nonsurgical and non-pharmaceutical but have known efficacy. When these are combined with mainstream care, they can enhance effectiveness and reduce adverse symptoms. These include mind-body techniques such as meditation, self-hypnosis, yoga, tai chi, and relaxation therapies.
Supplements and cancer treatment – what works and what doesn’t
Dr. Ellie May B. Villegas, past president of PSMO, stressed that the promising claims of alternative medicines (e.g. food and herbal supplements) are questionable because some did not undergo a series of clinical trials from health agencies like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a government agency under the Department of Health (DOH).
She disclosed that there are commonly used supplements that are supported by very limited scientific evidence which is not enough to suggest use. These supplements include transfer factor, malunggay oil, intravenous hydrogen peroxide, mangosteen extract pills, guyabano extract pills and resveratrol or grape seed extract.
Dr. Arnold John B. Uson backed Dr. Villegas’ statements, saying that alternative medicines are categorized as ‘supplements’ by the FDA as they have ‘no approved therapeutic claims’, that is, a little or no extensive studies in humans were conducted that proved them effective in treating any kind of diseases.
Although many of the supplements are without or with limited scientific evidence to back up their claims, there are supplements that are supported by high-level scientific evidence, according to Dr. Omid U. Etemadi. These supplements include Omega-3 fatty acid found in fish oil, krill oil, cod liver oil and flaxseed oil, vitamin D, medicinal mushrooms, beta-glucans, bioavailable curcumin, green tea polyphenols, pomegranate, acetogenin molecules and bioavailable silymarin phytosome. He noted that these must be administered under the supervision of a trained integrative oncologist to consider dosage and possible drug interactions.
Experts’ final reminders
With the proliferation complementary and alternative medicines in the market, PSMO reiterated that these products cannot and should not replace standard care of therapies in cancer treatment like surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. “We want to emphasize that diet and supplement on its own does not work on treating cancer, but combined with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, it can be used to enhance efficacy of treatment and reduce side effects.”
The organization also underscored that there is a potential for harmful drug interaction between all CAMs and standard of care therapy. They reminded that patients should fully disclose other medications they are taking to determine whether these substances can safely complement the standard of care therapy or adversely affect treatment, and even worsen the disease.
“Some forms of cancer are in fact preventable, and in the early stages, are curable, provided healthy lifestyle and early consult with the right cancer care providers is done. And if cancer treatment is advised to a patient, he must be empowered enough to make the right decision based on legitimate, scientific evidence in accordance with medical standards, as what our society is fighting for,” stressed Dr. Villegas.
-Joseph Pilapil / City Media Relations Office, with reports from PSMO website