OncoLink

Herbal Therapies

Herbal Therapies

Question
Should I consider herbal therapies for cancer treatment?


Answer
Katrina Claghorn, RD, Oncology Dietitian for The University of Pennsylvania Health System, responds:

It is claimed that herbs contain many compounds, which may prevent or treat cancer. These compounds have different properties, some stimulate the immune system, while others may encourage cell breakdown or act as antioxidants. Herbs may be recommended for various conditions, but pain or nausea and vomiting are of greatest interest for cancer patients.

Historically herbs were used as medicines and it is advised that they be treated with the same caution as you would any drug or medication. When considering herbal therapies you should investigate how they function in your therapy and how they may effect your treatment. It is not recommended that you replace conventional medical treatments with herbs. For example an herb that has antioxidant properties should be avoided during your chemotherapy or radiation therapies since there is the possibility they may reduce the effectiveness of the treatments. There is very little information about the safe doses for herbs. It is generally recommended that you follow the dosage information provided on the packaging and avoid excesses.

Always inform your doctor of any herbs you are taking. One major concern with herbal remedies is that you may be self-treating symptoms. This could mask important warning signs from your doctor and cause you to delay alerting your medical team. It is difficult to make broad recommendations on its applicability due to the lack of clinical trials evaluating these remedies. There are studies in progress that will hopefully shed additional light on the benefits of herbal treatments.