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Alternative Medicine and Older Cancer Patients

Going through cancer treatment can be a stressful time for both the patient and their family. In order to ensure the treatment is as successful as possible, it is important to provide the doctor with any important information that they may need, including a list of alternative medicines the patient is taking. Many older cancer patients use alternative medicines, including some that could interfere with their treatment, which is why it is important to inform the doctor of these medicines before treatment begins.

health-846863_640Labels can be misleading. A recent study in the Journal of Geriatric Oncology has shown that even though alternative medicines are marketed as “natural,” many contain active ingredients that can react with other therapies. In addition, many patients never tell their doctors they are using complementary or alternative medicines.

All medical information is relevant. The study found that many don’t disclose this information because either they think they are safe, natural, non-toxic and not relevant to their cancer care; believe their doctor will disapprove; or because the doctor doesn’t specifically ask.

You’re not the only one. This research also found that 26 percent of cancer patients surveyed took alternative medicines at some point in their cancer treatment. Sixty-eight percent of those who used alternative medicines were older than 80.

There are a lot of options for alternative medicines. Commonly used alternative medicines included products for macular degeneration and joint health, as well as stomach probiotics and mega-dose vitamins and minerals.

doctor-563428_640Interference is bad. A number of alternative medicines are known to interfere with cancer treatments. For example, St. John’s wort can reduce the effectiveness of some cancer therapies, and other alternative medicines can interfere with anesthesia during cancer surgery.

If you or a loved one is going through cancer treatment, it is vital to inform your doctor of any additional medications being taken. Let your doctor decide if it is safe and helpful to continue taking the medicine.

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