ASCO: Patients Not Reporting Use of 

Unconventional Therapy Unless Specifically


May 23, 2000 -- A new study conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania Cancer Center finds that 40 percent of cancer patients use unconventional medical therapies (UMTs) and do not disclose this information to their physicians unless specifically prompted by direct questions. James M. Metz, MD, assistant professor of radiation oncology at Penn and lead author of the study, will present these findings at the 36th meeting of the American Society for Clinical Oncology on Tuesday, May 23, 2000 in New Orleans.

In the study, 196 cancer patients, who were seen during an initial consultation, were asked whether they were taking over-the-counter or prescription drugs, which is a standard procedure in taking a medical history. Initially, 13 of those patients revealed that they were taking UMTs, which was defined by the physicians as any unproved therapy in the treatment of cancer, the management of symptoms or side effects, or the prevention of additional cancers. Examples include St. John's Wort, shark cartilage, or mega-doses of vitamins.

When the clinicians re-queried the other 183 cancer patients and asked them specific questions regarding their utilization of UMTs, -- 'Are you taking any vitamins other than prescribed by your physician?' 'Are you taking any herbal supplements or taking shark cartilage?' 'Are you using guided imagery music, biofeedback or mediation?' -- Seventy-nine patients admitted to using one or more forms of UMTs. One patient admitted using up to 17 supplements.

"Many patients don't realize that they need to divulge the use of any self-prescribed substances to their physicians," explains Dr. Metz. "It's crucial for physicians to ask more specific questions to so they'll know exactly what their patients are taking in an effort to avoid the possibility of any harmful drug interactions."

Within the group of 79 patients who admitted using UMTs, 40 percent reported using mega doses of vitamins, such as Vitamin C and Vitamin E. According to Dr. Metz, these vitamins are considered anti-oxidants and could potentially interfere or inhibit radiation treatment. Additionally, 34 percent of the patients reported using herbals such as Saw Palmetto, St. John's Wort, and garlic. Four percent of the patients said they used guided imagery music as a form of meditation; and another 16 percent reported using non-herbals such as shark cartilage. "Patients should understand that just because a product is marketed as 'natural,' that doesn't make it completely safe," says Dr. Metz. "Many of our chemotherapy drugs are from natural sources, but the ingredients are known to have certain toxic affects."

The patients in the study averaged 61 years old; with 35 percent having been diagnosed with lung cancer, 15 percent with breast cancer, 14 percent with prostate cancer, 7 percent with pancreatic cancer and 29 percent with other forms of cancer. Females made up 38 percent of the patient population, and were more likely than their male counterparts to use UMTs.

"The results of our study clearly demonstrate that physicians need to ask their patients more specifically directed questions as to what unconventional therapies are being taken by their patients," Dr. Metz concludes.

Ann's NOTE: Two things strike me. One is the use of the term "unconventional". We are currently using alternative or complementary for the types of protocols patients were asked about-and this is a little more user-friendly.

Secondly,Metz is quoted as saying use of antioxidants could "potentially interfere or inhibit radiation therapy". We do not know the answer to this from double-masked randomized clinical trials but I URGE THIS TO BE DONE. I suspect from the current level of studies including some very suggestive animal work, that this will NOT prove true.

But it would be so much better to KNOW. Join me in asking for such studies.

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