Cancer Myths and Facts: A quarterly corner discussing topics relevant to cancer

Vitamins and Cancer – Myths and Facts

Fact: There is no evidence to suggest that taking multivitamins at any dosage helps cancer. Several recent studies suggest a potential downside to vitamin supplementation in people who are generally well-nourished. An analysis of more than 45 studies assessing antioxidant supplementation, found a slight increase in deaths among people who took beta-carotene, vitamin E, or vitamin A supplements. There is little evidence of a benefit for antioxidant supplementation and mounting evidence of potential harm.

Fact: There is no official pre-market approval of supplements (vitamins, minerals, herbal supplements). The Federal Drug and Food Administration (FDA) does not limit the concentration or quantity of nutrients in a pill.

Fact: Some naturally obtained substances can be deadly or very harmful to the body, such as arsenic and fungus. Overdosing on some supplements can damage our health, sometimes  permanently. Pills are chemically processed and do not provide all the food components that a healthy body requires. Nothing can replace a healthy diet.

Fact:  We don't know much scientifically about how nutritional or herbal supplements may interact with chemotherapy. Some could be harmful. There is some suggestion that certain vitamins, including folate, when taken in excess, may counteract the effects of some chemotherapy drugs. The best strategy is to consume a diet that's as healthly as possible, including lots of vegetables and fruit. If your loss of appetite is keeping you from eating well for more than a few days, you might consider taking a multivitamin to help you get the vitamins and minerals you need. Check the label and look for a multivitamin that doesn't give you more than 100 percent of the Daily Value (DV) of all the vitamins and minerals.

Cancer Research Myths and Facts

Fact: Trials are often another option that offers a treatment plan that may better address the patient's needs and improve their quality of life.

Fact: Clinical trials often are an option for a different and possibly better or more effective treatment.

Fact: Institutional Review Boards (IRB) comprised of local physicians, nurses, ethics and legal experts, and community leaders must approve all clinical trials and the informed consent documents before they are approved for people to participate in. These boards have the responsibility to assure that there are no unreasonable risks, compared to the benefits to the patient. Most clinical trials testing new drug treatments have already been tested in labs in animals and humans.

Fact: Placebos are used only when there is no standard care treatment already available. Placebos are never used in the place of the standard care treatment already given. Any clinical trial that involves a test group that will receive no treatment must inform participants in advance that the trial has a placebo takeout.

Breast Cancer - Myths and Facts

Fact: The vast majority of women, more than 70 percent, diagnosed with breast cancer have no identifiable risk factors for the disease. But it is true that if a woman has first-degree relatives (a parent, sibling, or child) with breast cancer, her risk of developing the disease increases. Having multiple first-degree or second-degree relatives with the disease increases the risk even more.

Fact: Breast cancer risk is not connected to the size of your breasts. Women who have very large breasts may be harder to examine than small-breasted ones, but all women, regardless of breast size, should have routine screening mammograms and checkups.

Fact: The father's family history of breast cancer is very important and as important as your mother's in understanding your risk. Men do get breast cancer, but it is much more common in women. Therefore, it is important to look primarily at the women on your father's side. Other cancers in men (such as early-onset prostate or colon cancer) on either side are also important to consider when doing a full family-tree risk assessment for breast cancer. Your physician may refer you for genetic counseling, if appropriate, to detect an increased risk of hereditary (familial) cancers, including breast, ovarian and other cancers.

Fact: Most breast cancers are painless. A lump may indicate breast cancer regardless of pain or discomfort. It could also indicate many benign breast conditions, but women should be on the alert for any kind of change in their breasts that may be signs of cancer. These include lumps; swelling; skin irritation or dimpling; breast or nipple pain; nipple retraction (turning inward); redness, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin; or a discharge other than breast milk. Breast cancer can also spread to armpit glands (lymph nodes) and cause swelling there before a tumor in the breast is large enough to be felt. A screening mammogram may pick up breast cancer before any symptom occurs at all.

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