Using supplements safely to combat cancer

May 5, 2008 9:17:54 AM PDT
More and more people want to use supplements as part of their medical treatment. But they may not know HOW to use them.

When Nicole Cyrille, of Somerset, New Jersey, learned she had stage 3 breast cancer, she knew chemotherapy and radiation were a must.

But Nicole also wanted supplements as part of her treatment.

Growing up in Haiti... she'd heard a lot about herbal medicine.

She told Action News, "They didn't go to prescription drugs right away. They know what tea to take if you have a headache."

To find the right ones, Nicole asked Dr. Michelle Ququndah, a naturopathic specialist at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Hunting Park. She is specially trained in the use of complementary medicines - what they can do, and how they interact with traditional medications.

As Dr. Ququndah and Nicole go over her medications, she reminds her, "The calcium and magnesium that are in that supplement can help you relax in the evenings."

Supplements, herbs, and homeopathic medicines are an integral part of treatment for Dr. Ququndah's patients.

The products don't fight cancer directly.... but she says they support the body's own immune system.

And can decrease side effects from traditional cancer treatments, such as nausea, diarrhea, mouth sores, or damage to the heart.

But while interest in supplements is booming, Dr. Qudundah says she sees a lot of patients whoo self-prescribe, and those efforts can backfire.

She cautions, "They can cause an increase in side effects, or what we are very concerned about - a decrease in the effectiveness in the other therapies they are receiving."

For Nicole, she says her supplement regimen helped her maintain a healthy diet and exercise plan, and she credits it for preventing a possible side effect of one of her drugs.... tingling in the hands.

Nicole recalls, "I said - Michelle, I need my hand, because I am a fashion designer. I do need my hand."

Dr. Ququndah says to only take advice from a trained, qualified professional.

And if you are taking any supplements - even vitamins - tell your doctor.