• By Jason Howland

Mayo Clinic Minute: Are supplements safe for cancer patients?

December 16, 2019

If you've been diagnosed with cancer, you may be considering taking herbal and dietary supplements to help strengthen your immune system and ease the symptoms of cancer treatment.

But are supplements safe when you have cancer?

Watch: The Mayo Clinic Minute

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If you're diagnosed with cancer, you should be careful what supplements you're taking.

"Oftentimes, the first thing I do is look through the list of supplements and start to discontinue many of the supplements that they are taking because perhaps there's a drug interaction," says Dr. Dawn Mussallem, a Mayo Clinic internal medicine specialist.

While research on the topic is limited, some studies suggest that ginger can be beneficial.

"Ginger is something we can consider delivering to our patients when they come in with that question: 'What else can I do for my chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting?'" says Dr. Mussallem.

Many patients experience cancer-related fatigue, often a side effect of treatment. American ginseng can help. But there are risks for some patients.

"It is believed that some products of American ginseng may have some estrogenic properties," says Dr. Mussallem. "So women who have hormone receptor-positive breast cancers ... I generally try to avoid long duration of American ginseng in these women."

Bottom line, if you're diagnosed with cancer, check with your health care provider before taking any supplements. They could interfere with your treatment.

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