More than 80 percent of local cancer patients regularly take dietary supplements in the hope of increasing their chances of recovery, but a survey found that some turn to such products in place of cancer medications, the Hope Foundation for Cancer Care said yesterday.
The survey, conducted between Sept. 5 and Oct. 24 last year, found that 82.1 percent of respondents use nutritional supplements, taking an average of 4.3 kinds of supplement, the foundation said.
Seven percent of respondents reported taking at least 10 dietary supplements, the foundation said.
“The poll shows that the number or types of supplements a patient takes is directly proportional to the severity of his or her illness, as evidenced by the fact patients with stage-four cancers take approximately five kinds of nutritional supplements, compared with an average of 3.5 among individuals with stage-one cancer,” foundation chairman Wang Cheng-hsu (王正旭) told a press conference in Taipei.
Wang, who is director of the Keelung Chang Gung Cancer Center, said the most common dietary supplements among cancer patients are nutritional drinks, followed by vitamins and glutamine.
About 35 percent of respondents said they take nutritional supplements to strengthen their immune system, while 31 percent used such products to increase their physical strength and 20.4 percent to assuage the side effects of cancer treatments.
While 4.9 percent of respondents said they believed dietary supplements could help prevent a recurrence of their cancer, 1.2 percent thought such products could cure cancer, Wang said.
“More alarming is that 37 percent chose not to inform their physicians about the nutritional supplements they are taking, because they thought the doctors might not fully understand the efficacy of their supplements [31.9 percent], the doctors did not need to know [27.7] or the doctors might talk them out of taking the products [14.9],” Wang said.
Chen Chao-tzu (陳昭姿), director of the Koo Foundation Sun Yat-Sen Cancer Center’s Center for Advancement of Nursing Education, said many people think that since dietary supplements are categorized as food, they are harmless and free of side effects.
“Such products still have side effects, but it may take longer for them to manifest themselves. Some dietary supplements might interact with cancer drugs, or even affect chemotherapy or radiotherapy treatments,” Chen said.
The survey collected 375 valid samples. The majority, or 45.1 percent, of the respondents had breast cancer, followed by lymphoma, colorectal cancer, ovarian cancer and lung cancer.
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