Keeping Cancer From Coming Back: Should Survivors Take Supplements?
Harvard Health Letters
Harvard Health Letters
About 12 million Americans are cancer survivors, and the number is almost certainly going to increase because of early detection, better treatment, and an aging population. After the first encounter with the disease and the ordeal of treatment, attention swivels to what can be done to prevent a second one.
As many as a third of cancer survivors start taking vitamin and mineral supplements. But should they?
Until that research is done, we must go by the results of studies of long-term supplement use and how it correlates with advanced or fatal cases of cancer. Those findings can't separate out the pre- and post-diagnosis effects of supplements, but as the
VITAMIN D IS A CONTENDER
The most encouraging news out of Giovannucci and Chan's review is that vitamin D is a prospect for lowering cancer recurrence. Vitamin D is generated in skin exposed to the ultraviolet B (UVB) part of the light spectrum, and people in higher latitudes with less exposure to UVB light from the sun have higher rates of fatal colon, breast, and ovarian cancer.
Moreover, the association is stronger for mortality than incidence, suggesting that vitamin D might have effects late in the disease process. Several threads of experimental evidence point to vitamin D having anticancer activity, and some animal experiments suggest particularly strong effects on metastasis -- cancer's spread from one part of the body to another.
Studies of lung, breast, and colon cancer patients help make the case for D: High levels of the vitamin in the blood of the patients in those studies were associated with lower rates of death and cancer coming back.
The research done so far doesn't prove that vitamin D supplements will reduce colon cancer recurrence. And vitamins have disappointed so many times now that enthusiasm must be tempered. Still, as the
NOT SO PROMISING
The glass looks to be half empty -- or even worse -- for other vitamins. The antioxidant vitamins -- vitamin C, vitamin E -- don't seem to have broad anticancer effects, and beta carotene, a form of vitamin A, seems to increase the risk of lung cancer in smokers. Giovannucci and Chan hold out some flickering hope for vitamin E perhaps reducing the risk of advanced or fatal prostate cancer in smokers.
Folate may have a split personality, reducing the risk of precancerous colon polyps, but once they have developed, raising the risk of the polyps becoming full-fledged colon cancer. The
That advice may be at odds with the
ASPIRIN: A DEFINITE MAYBE
In contrast to the wavering enthusiasm for vitamins, with the notable exception of D, things are looking up for aspirin, according to Giovannucci and Chan. They describe the evidence for aspirin reducing the risk of colon cancer recurrence as "compelling" and point to results from a randomized trial that showed a daily 325-mg dose of aspirin reduced the recurrence by 35 percent among about 500 patients who had been treated for early-stage colon cancer.
Another feather in the aspirin cap: Results in 2009 from a study led by Chan that linked a regular aspirin habit after a colon cancer diagnosis to a lowering of risk for dying from the disease.
Other types of cancer seem susceptible to aspirin's influence, too. A different group of
So how is it that aspirin, the humble pain reliever, might keep cancer at bay? Aspirin inhibits the COX-2 enzyme. In addition to catalyzing inflammatory processes that are part of pain, COX-2 is involved in others that influence cell growth and therefore the development of cancer. By blocking COX-2, aspirin may have the ability to steer wayward cells away from a cancerous fate and, if the current findings hold up, maybe it can do the same for some cancer survivors.
Giovannucci and Chan envision a day when cancers might be tested for their COX-2 status so doctors and patients would know if taking an aspirin is worth it. -- Harvard Health Letter
Available at Amazon.com:
- Keeping Cancer From Coming Back: Should Survivors Take Supplements?
- Disease of the Bile Ducts May Lead to Liver Damage or Failure
- When Discovered Early Whipple's Disease Can Often Be Treated With Antibiotics
- Is Anterior Hip Replacement Better?
- Self-Care Steps Can Help Keep Blood Pressure in Normal Range
- Overcoming Insomnia: Lifestyle Changes, Medication, Psychotherapy Can Help
- Monitoring Cholesterol Valuable Way to Assess Ongoing Risk of Heart Disease
- What Can I Do About Blepharitis?
- Stay Healthy With Smart Contact Lenses
- Symptoms Could be Caused by Allergy Related to Snowy Weather
- Update From the Common Cold Front
- The Dangers of Prediabetes
- Got Gas?
- The Headache Trigger You Haven't Considered
- Dental Pain? Try Acupuncture
- What Could Dreams About Teeth Mean?
- Stop Achy Feet Now
- The Obesity-Cancer Connection: Hormones and Chemicals in Fat Can Set the Stage
- Are You Diabetic? 6 Tips That Will Keep You Out of the Hospital
- Tips to Manage Blood Sugar
- Health Hints for Cold Weather: As the Seasons Change, So Does Air Quality
- What to Do About Dry Skin In Winter
- What Can You Tell Me About Surgery for Vertebral Fractures?
- Several Possible Causes Could be Source of Hand Tremors
- Variety of Factors Influence Breast Cancer Screening Schedule
- Low White Blood Cell Count Not Always a Sign of Medical Problem
- Endoscopic Ultrasound Produces Detailed Images From Deep Within the Body
- Are Those Canker Sores or Cancer?
- Step Away From the Scale
- Is Tap Water Better?
- Dreary Days Got You Down? Beat the Winter Blues
- 6 Common Myths and Misconceptions About Diabetes
- Atrial Fibrillation Won't Cause Heart Attack But Can Lead to Other Serious Complications
- Difficulties With Memory and Thinking May Develop in Some People With Parkinson's
- Most Cases of Gynocomastia Don't Cause Long-Term Complications
- Sarcopenia: The New Osteoporosis
- Keeping Bedbugs at Bay
- When Eyes Get Dry, And What You Can Try
- Natural Orifice Surgery Minimizes the Trauma of Open Surgery
- Overmedication: Are Americans Taking Too Many Drugs?
- Good Health Is A Sound Investment
- Mushrooms Have Medicinal As Well As Culinary Value
- Healthy Snacks for Energy
- Power Up with Hidden 'Superfoods'
- Strong Relationships Are Good For Your Health
- For Help With Medical Bills Cut a Deal With the Doctor
- Are You Overdosing on Dairy?
- How to Keep Your Teeth Healthy at Any Age
- How the Dentist Helps Your Heart
- Why Stress Can Be Good for You
- The Obesity - Cancer Connection
- The Far Reach of Fast Food
- Skip the Eggnog: These Holiday Foods Are Good For You
- Looking for the Mark of the Mediterranean Diet
- 12 Steps to Healthy Holidays
- Why Power Naps at Work Are Catching On
- Enjoy the Holidays Without Piling on the Pounds
- The Benefits of Indulgence
- The Best Way to Kill Germs
- Best Cold-buster Strategies
- Gift Giving Made Healthy
- Managing Dental Phobia
- Is the Bedbug Threat Real?
- 10 Ways to Stay Healthy During Holiday Travel
- Junk Food Addiction Is All Too Real
- Cranberries: Our Holiday Season's Sparkling Gem
- Foods that Fuel the Immune System
- Powerful Nutrition for Strong Bones
- Bone Up On Bone Health
- Music Only Path to Movement for Some People With Motor Disorders
- Counterfeit Medicines: Health and Harm
- FDA Cracks Down on Caffeine-Charged Alcoholic Drinks
- Fruit and Vegetables: Americans Fall Short
- How to Properly Eat Your Veggies
- Healthy Eating Tips for a Busy Lifestyle
- Top 10 Surprising Facts About Smiling
- Bad Habits That Are Good for You
- How to Decipher Product Labels
- New Applications Turning Cell Phones Into Medical Devices
- The Virtual Therapist Will See You Now
- New Findings Turning Coffee Into A 'Health Food'
- Food Allergies: When Food Bites Back
- Healthy Hot Drinks Avoid Caffeine and Sugar
- Have Glowing Skin for All Seasons
- Best Health Advice I Ever Got
- The Serious Hazards of Soda
- How to Turn Setbacks into Bounce-backs
- Stay Healthy When Everyone Else Is Sick
- How Personality Affects Your Health
- A Sensitive Issue: Salt Restriction
- Would Your Kitchen Pass a Restaurant Inspection?
- Should I Stop Taking B12 Supplements?
- Tap Water Toxins: Fact or Fiction?
- Love Your Liver: Natural Liver Support
- Healthy Eating Guide to Cereal
- Load Up On Vitamin C
- Vitamins That Keep Your Brain Young
- 5 Superfoods You're Not Eating
- Boost Dental Health with Honey and Agave Syrup
- Oral Health Sweet Shocker
- Screening Tests That Can Save Your Life
- Eat Fiber and Feel Better
- The Worst and Best Sweets for Your Teeth
- The Truth About Extreme Smile Makeovers
- A Smart Guide to Dietary Supplements
- Beat the Bedbug Epidemic
- Healthy Eating All Day
- Recreational Drugs Go Straight
- Normal Weight Obesity - A Growing Concern
- Keeping Cancer From Coming Back: Should Survivors Take Supplements?
- Hybrid Fruit: The New Super-food
- Is Indian Cuisine Healthy Cuisine?
- Is 'Ethnic' Cuisine Healthier?
- Is the H1N1 Flu Pandemic Over?
- 5 Ways to Boost Your Immune System
- Surviving Cold Season: How Not to Get Sick
- 7 Healthy Habits in 7 Weeks
- Sleep More and Live Longer
- 4 Dangerous Health Emergencies: What to Do
- Heartburn-friendly Diet with Your Favorite Foods
- Put Brakes on Inflammation Through Diet and Lifestyle Strategies
- The Vibrant and Healthy Flavors of an Authentic Latin Diet
- Is It Hunger or Just Appetite?
- Stay Healthy the Easy Way
- The Importance of Dreams
- Boost Your Energy: Hour by Hour
- Stop Information Overload
- Breathe Like a Baby
- 5 Healthy Foods That Wreck Your Teeth
- Are You Falling for Dental Myths?
- Is Heart Attack Going Out of Style?
- Flu Season
- Preventive Care & Electronic Medical Records Guidelines Set
- Stone Age Diet Surprisingly Good For a Healthy Life Today
- New Tools Fuel Progress on Development of Genetically Engineered Farm Animals
- Beat Your Afternoon Energy Slump
- Small Healthy Habits With Big Health Benefits
- Relieve Stress and Uplift Spirits with Aromatherapy
- New Things To Try That Lift Your Spirits and Relieve Stress
- 5 Fast Breakfasts That Boost Your Health
- Much to Consider When Looking for a Primary Care Physician
- Apples Are the New Fish
- Watermelon: Summer's Antioxidant
- Prescription for Better Health: Go Alfresco?
- Are All Omega-3 Fats The Same?
- Sample a Semi-Vegetarian Lifestyle With a Flexitarian Diet
- Milk: When the First Food May Be the Best Food
- Foraging is Green Eating at Its Purest
- How to Lose Weight Safely
- Colleges Joining Effort to Turn Around Skyrocketing Obesity Rates
- Medical Claims for Marijauna - Just Blowing Smoke?
- The Hidden Health Benefits of Adult Braces
- 5 Things Your Dental Insurance Will Not Cover
- 4 Effortless Steps to Whiter Teeth
- 5 First-aid Tricks You Need to Know
- Heat Can Beat the Heart
- Eating for Your Blood Type -- Truth or Fiction?
- Salt Sensitivity Issue: Salt Restriction
- 5 Tips to Bulldoze a Bad Mood
- Genetically Engineered Foods Update: More Common Than You Think
- 5 Celebrity Trends That Could Harm Your Health
- Should You Travel Abroad for a Dental Procedure
- Super Foods to Boost Your Dental Health
- The Fight Escalates Against Fake Drugs
- Fermented Foods Are Making a Comeback
- Wean Yourself Off Processed Foods in 7 Steps
- An Update on Soy: It's Just So-So
- Is it OK to Take Ibuprofen P.M.?
- Colonoscopy: Is It Time to Go Virtual Colonoscopy
- Sleep Better Tonight (Fight Fatigue Tomorrow)
- Do-it-yourself Sunburn Remedies
- Take the Germ Quiz
- Healthy Mouth Equals Healthy Body
- 5 Biggest Flossing Mistakes
- Health Threat of Nitrates: Nitrites in Cured Meats
- Stop Dry Mouth Now
- Best Ways to Keep Your Teeth
- 5 Instant Ways to Stress Less and Smile More
- Be Suntan Savvy
- 4 Ways to Sneak in Sunblock
- Can Aspirin Do That, Too?
- A Natural Approach to Sweet Slumber
- Boost Your Brainpower
- Seeds of Life: Chia, Flax, Hemp and Pumpkin
- Microgreens Become Macro Trend to Follow
- Eat Your Way to a Healthy Smile
- Why and How to Get More Vitamin D
- Better Alternatives to Silver Fillings
- 5 Beach Safety Tips
- Traveling Light: Healthy Eating for Business Junketeers
- Healthy Snacks for Energy
- Shape-Shifting 'Tube Robot' Could Aid Heart Surgery
- Better Ways to Get Your Produce
- Cutting-Edge Cuisine Engages Senses Beyond Taste
- Eat for Your Eyesight
- Is It Better to Stop Smoking Abruptly or Gradually?
- Relieve Stress in 5 Minutes or Less
- Best Ways to Soothe Sensitive Teeth
- Turn a Clean Home Into a Healthy Home
- Largest Ever Cell Phone Cancer Study is Inconclusive
- Treating Early-Stage Esophageal Cancer
- TNF Inhibitors Offer Relief to Those With Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Advances in Breast Cancer Screening Helping to Fine-Tune Diagnosis
Copyright © 2011 Harvard Health Letters. All rights reserved.