Do Vitamins Help or Hurt Cancer Patients?

What is the role of vitamin supplementation in treating cancer? The New York Times recently published an article about the popularity of vitamin consumption among cancer patients, quoting multiple scientific groups as saying that cancer patients should not consume megadoses of vitamins.

If it hasn’t yet been proven that vitamin usage can prevent or aid in the treatment of cancer, why do most patients with breast cancer, especially the younger ones, use these supplements to “boost” their “immunity?”

Very simply: vitamins are big business. There is an enormous industry promoting false hope in patients. It seems much of the industry is based on the theoretical ability of these substances, which everyone needs in their daily diet in known smaller quantities, to be extraordinarily beneficial in megadose quantities. These recommendations from people in the supplement industry are supposedly based on large doses of many of these substances used in animal and laboratory studies. But most human trials thus far have shown negative benefit and some have shown the capacity for harm.

In any case, the use of these high-dose supplements—especially antioxidants—is to be avoided in patients undergoing cancer therapy. The American Cancer Society currently discourages the use of vitamins and supplements during cancer treatment.

The bottom line is this: while a multivitamin may be beneficial to many of us who live a lifestyle in which it’s impossible to get the recommended daily amount of vitamins and minerals simply from diet alone, megadoses of these substances in cancer patients can be extremely detrimental to their health and can compromise the effectiveness of the treatment.

It’s human nature to reach for anything that will benefit us and to believe those who provide hope, whether or not it has been proven to help. But it is time for the supplement industry to provide real proof that there is benefit in what they are selling—and I’m not talking about false hope. If you have cancer, please discuss any supplement usage with your cancer physician first.


Read more about Cancer Treatment or visit our Senior Health section for more information on healthy living ideas.