Integrating dietary supplements into cancer care

Integr Cancer Ther. 2013 Sep;12(5):369-84. doi: 10.1177/1534735412473642. Epub 2013 Feb 25.


Many studies confirm that a majority of patients undergoing cancer therapy use self-selected forms of complementary therapies, mainly dietary supplements. Unfortunately, patients often do not report their use of supplements to their providers. The failure of physicians to communicate effectively with patients on this use may result in a loss of trust within the therapeutic relationship and in the selection by patients of harmful, useless, or ineffective and costly nonconventional therapies when effective integrative interventions may exist. Poor communication may also lead to diminishment of patient autonomy and self-efficacy and thereby interfere with the healing response. To be open to the patient's perspective, and sensitive to his or her need for autonomy and empowerment, physicians may need a shift in their own perspectives. Perhaps the optimal approach is to discuss both the facts and the uncertainty with the patient, in order to reach a mutually informed decision. Today's informed patients truly value physicians who appreciate them as equal participants in making their own health care choices. To reach a mutually informed decision about the use of these supplements, the Clinical Practice Committee of The Society of Integrative Oncology undertook the challenge of providing basic information to physicians who wish to discuss these issues with their patients. A list of leading supplements that have the best suggestions of benefit was constructed by leading researchers and clinicians who have experience in using these supplements. This list includes curcumin, glutamine, vitamin D, Maitake mushrooms, fish oil, green tea, milk thistle, Astragalus, melatonin, and probiotics. The list includes basic information on each supplement, such as evidence on effectiveness and clinical trials, adverse effects, and interactions with medications. The information was constructed to provide an up-to-date base of knowledge, so that physicians and other health care providers would be aware of the supplements and be able to discuss realistic expectations and potential benefits and risks.

Keywords: cancer care; complementary medicine; dietary supplements; herbal medicine; integrative medicine; nutritional supplements; vitamins.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Camellia sinensis / physiology
  • Curcumin / pharmacology
  • Curcumin / therapeutic use
  • Dietary Supplements* / adverse effects
  • Fish Oils / therapeutic use
  • Glutamine / pharmacology
  • Glutamine / therapeutic use
  • Grifola / physiology
  • Humans
  • Integrative Medicine / methods*
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Probiotics / pharmacology
  • Probiotics / therapeutic use
  • Vitamin D / pharmacology
  • Vitamin D / therapeutic use


  • Fish Oils
  • Glutamine
  • Vitamin D
  • Curcumin