September 2018

Breast cancer treatments + supplements: what you need to know

Over 50% of breast cancer patients report using some kind of alternative medicine, regardless of the efficacy of the conventional treatments that they receive. New research shows that cancer patients who use alternative medicine are more likely to refuse conventional drugs – resulting in a higher risk for death. This increased risk can be mediated by discussing the use of alternative treatments with all patients, and providing education on which alternative treatments might cause problems when used along with recommended conventional therapies. Patients should also be made aware that very few supplements show significant benefit.

One popular option that breast cancer patients consider using is coenzyme Q10. While some evidence suggests it might be beneficial, patients should not try it on their own. Radiation and some chemotherapeutic agents work by generating oxygen radicals that damage tumors. There is concern that coenzyme Q10 might protect tumor cells against these treatments, making them less effective at fighting cancer. Grapefruit and St. John's wort should also be avoided during chemotherapy as both of these are likely to alter the effectiveness of some cancer treatments. 

Calcium D-glucarate is a natural medicine that’s been getting a lot of attention due to its antiestrogen effects. But not enough is known about the effects of calcium D-glucarate supplements in humans. There is also concern that it could decrease the effectiveness of estrogen therapy. If breast cancer patients insist on boosting calcium D-glucarate levels, suggest they eat more oranges, apples, and Brussels sprouts instead of taking a supplement.

For more information on natural medicines used for breast cancer, check out our CE/CME on Natural Medicines in the Clinical Management of Breast Cancer.

The information in this brief report is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions. Copyright © 2024 NatMed. Commercial distribution or reproduction prohibited. NatMed is the leading provider of high-quality, evidence-based, clinically-relevant information on natural medicine, dietary supplements, herbs, vitamins, minerals, functional foods, diets, complementary practices, CAM modalities, exercises and medical conditions. Monograph sections include interactions with herbs, drugs, foods and labs, contraindications, depletions, dosing, toxicology, adverse effects, pregnancy and lactation data, synonyms, safety and effectiveness.