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Health Capsules
March 2008
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Supplement Use and Cancer

Many current and former cancer patients take vitamin and mineral supplements.  They may believe these supplements can help reduce treatment side effects.  They may think extra vitamins will keep cancer from coming back or help them live longer.  But research in these areas hasn’t yet found whether many of these beliefs are true.  And some doctors worry that supplements can interact with cancer treatments or have other unintended consequences.

NIH-funded researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center wanted to investigate how common supplement use among cancer patients might be.  They analyzed 32 studies published between 1999 and 2006 that looked at how many adult cancer patients and survivors used vitamin and mineral supplements.

The researchers found widespread supplement use nationwide.  Overall, up to 4 out of 5 cancer patients and survivors took some kind of vitamin or mineral supplement.  Breast cancer survivors had the highest rates of use.  Up to about 9 in 10 took supplements.  In comparison, about half of all U.S. adults take vitamin or mineral supplements.

Up to 70% of cancer patients and survivors who used supplements did not discuss it with their doctors.  Yet it’s important for physicians to know when their patients are taking supplements, said Dr. Cornelia M. Ulrich, one of the researchers.  “Some vitamins, such as folic acid, may be involved in cancer progression while others, such as St. John’s wort, can interfere with chemotherapy,” she explained.

This study suggests that scientists need to learn more about how dietary supplements affect cancer treatment, survival and quality of life.  In the meantime, no matter what your medical condition, it’s always a good idea to discuss any supplement use with your doctor.

Links iconWeb Sites

Nutrition in Cancer Care

Supplementing Your Diet—Vitamins, Minerals and Beyond

Eating Hints for Cancer Patients: Before, During and After Treatment

  Why Be Shy About Incontinence?

Many people think of incontinence as a shameful secret.  But you shouldn’t suffer in silence if you have incontinence.  You can take action to prevent or manage it.  The first step is to talk with your health care provider.

“Incontinence” means losing control of your bladder or bowel movements.  You may have trouble getting to the toilet in time.  You may leak urine or stool unexpectedly when you sneeze or run.  Some people who have incontinence may avoid social situations, fearing an embarrassing “accident.”

Incontinence can happen to anyone, but it’s most common in women and older people.  It can occur for many reasons, but it’s not caused by aging.  Women who’ve had children are especially at risk for incontinence.  Sometimes other medical conditions, like diabetes or physical injuries, can make you lose control over urinary or bowel muscles and lead to incontinence.  Treating these other conditions may help restore your control.

Many people can prevent incontinence by making simple lifestyle changes.  Your diet, physical activity, weight and smoking behavior all play a role.  

Remember, if you have incontinence, you’re not alone.  For millions of men and women nationwide, incontinence can be treated.  Your doctor can help you find the approach that’s best for you. 

Learn more about incontinence by visiting the links to the right.  You can also contact 1–800–891–5390 or for more information about bladder control.  To learn more about fecal incontinence, contact 1-800-891-5389 or

Links iconWeb Sites

Fecal Incontinence   

Urinary Incontinence in Women

What I Need to Know About Bladder Control for Women

Urinary Incontinence in Men   

Urinary Incontinence in Children  

Age Page: Urinary Incontinence  


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