Cancer Treatment and Nutritional Supplements

Help or Harm? Nutritional supplements and cancer treatment often don't mix

Turmeric is likely safe for most people, but it should be avoided during chemotherapy, radiation or blood-thinning therapies.

When faced with a cancer diagnosis, it makes sense to do whatever you can to make your treatment more effective and give your body everything it needs to battle cancer.  This includes supplementing your diet with vitamins — supplements — and even herbal products.   In fact, research studies estimate between 65% to 80% of cancer patients regularly use them.

The problem is, nutritional supplements, herbal products and cancer treatments often don’t mix. Certain combinations have the potential to cause serious side effects or may even reduce the effectiveness of the cancer treatment itself.  Find out more about this — including a chart outlining the good and bad about the most common supplements — by reading Help or Harm? an online article from our Thrive magazine. You can also find out more about herbal supplements and cancer treatments in this video.

Learn more about supplements, nutrition and cancer

Read the latest issue of Thrive

The latest issue of Thrive, the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s patient publication, is now available online.

Check out our cover story about options available to women who would like to start a family after cancer treatment has impaired their fertility. The issue also features stories about helping children cope with their parents’ cancer diagnoses and 10 ways to make better decisions about cancer care. Our dietitians weigh in on popular supplements, and our art therapist discusses the benefits of spending time on creative projects.

Visit Thrive online at Take time to browse our archive, too.

7 ways to simplify the holiday crush when you’re coping with cancer

One Christmas while Ben Graham was going through treatment for rhabdomyosarcoma — a type of soft-tissue cancer — his entire third grade class at North Branch Elementary School sent him gifts. To Ben, then 8, it was awesome. But after he’d ripped open the packages, he told his mom, Brenda, that even though he really appreciated his friends generosity, he’d give it all back if it meant he didn’t have to have cancer anymore.

“You really realize what’s important, and the holidays become more special,” Brenda Graham said. “Having Ben here, sitting down to dinner with him and spending time with him: That’s what’s important.”

From Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, the holiday scramble can be daunting under even the best circumstances. But people coping with cancer face different stresses. We’ve assembled tips from patients, parents, survivors and social workers about how to make the best of the season.

Visit the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Living with Cancer site to read seven tips.

Pharmacist’s Corner: Keeping track of medications

Keeping track of your medications and remembering whether a medication has been taken can be a daunting task. Many tools exist that can help you with this process, but what’s important is to develop a system that works best for you. Visit our Keeping Track of Medications page on to get tips. To learn more, watch the videocast above.

A helping hand: Taking control of eating with tube-feeding

By Nancy Burke, R.D., Joan Daniels, R.D., and Danielle Karsies, R.D., M.S.
University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center Dietitians

Illustration shows placement of feeding tubesThink of any celebration, and the first thing that probably comes to mind is food. The aroma, taste and texture of food give us pleasure and satisfaction — but cancer and its treatment can temporarily interfere with our ability to enjoy it.

Some people with cancer may experience loss of appetite or taste. Others may not be able to eat because of a blockage or pain when swallowing. No one wants to give up eating, but when it becomes more of a hindrance or a burden, a feeding tube may offer relief. In fact, we’ve found that many people who opt for tube-feeding say that they wished they had done so sooner, as they feel better overall, more energetic and less burdened by not having to force themselves to eat.

Read the rest of this story in the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s patient publication, Thrive.

On Your Own: Facing the challenges of cancer while living alone

Cancer can turn any household upsidedown, but facing cancer while living alone can add to the challenges of coping. Who will help pay the bills if you can’t work? How do you get to the clinic for treatment if the medicine makes you too sick to drive? Who will help you take your pills on that day when the kitchen is just too far to walk?

Learn more about social networking tools that can help you reach out to friends and long-distance family.

Learn more about social networking tools at that can help you reach out to friends and long-distance family.

Aryana Robbins, a social worker at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center, said people with cancer who live alone face a lot of unique challenges.

“We help a lot of patients who live alone with the practical aspects of their care,” she said, “but we also try to encourage them to seek out emotional support as well. It’s difficult to be the patient, the caregiver and the advocate at one time.”

Asking for help is the key for people who live alone. Connecting to people and services in your community helps to alleviate a sense of isolation that is common among people with cancer who live in a household of one. Continue reading