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Cancer Patients Likely to Use Dietary Supplements

Physicians urged to open lines of communication with patients concerning supplement usage

THURSDAY, Feb. 7 (HealthDay News) -- Dietary supplement usage is widespread among cancer patients and survivors, yet most physicians are unaware of its extent among their patients, according to a review article published in the February issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Christine M. Velicer, Ph.D., of the University of Washington in Seattle, and a colleague summarized 32 studies published between 1999 and 2006 that assessed vitamin and mineral supplement use by adult cancer patients and survivors in the United States.

Compared to the general population, the researchers found cancer survivors have significantly higher rates of any vitamin and mineral supplement usage (64-81 percent versus about 50 percent) and multivitamin/multimineral supplement usage (26-77 percent versus about 33 percent). The investigators also found that 14-32 percent of survivors started taking supplements after diagnosis. Supplementation usage was highest among breast cancer survivors, women and subjects with a high level of education, and lowest among prostate cancer survivors. But as many as 68 percent of physicians reported that their patients did not inform them about supplement usage.

"Until further studies assist in clarifying the association between vitamin use among cancer survivors and prognosis, health care professionals should encourage open communication with their cancer patients regarding supplement use," the authors write. "Physicians can lead this effort by probing to understand the specific reasons their patients are taking supplements (or considering doing so), and by understanding that patients may be apprehensive of disapproval."

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