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Role of herbal supplements in cancer treatment

By: Cesar D. Mangawang, January 18th, 2013 11:03 PM

Every year a weeklong celebration is held to make the public aware about cancer and its safe and effective care and treatment. This is the national cancer consciousness week celebrated by the Department of Health every third week of January.

The World Health Organization reveals that every year cancer causes around 7.9 million deaths worldwide. According to studies, there is a steady increase in cancer incidence in the country.

A scientific, professional organization of medical oncologists concerned about cancer information dissemination is the Philippine Society of Medical Oncology (PSMO). It is committed to the advancement of the science, ethical and holistic practice of medical oncology.

Press conference

PSMO partnered with pharmaceutical firms Roche and Fresenius and recently held a press conference titled “Herbal Supplement: Boon or Bane?” It felt the need to inform cancer patients and their families about herbal supplements to enable them to decide about their treatment, and discuss options with their multidisciplinary team of specialists.

An increasing number of herbal supplements, both food and medicines, are being promoted in the country and abroad. The public, particularly those who have cancer, have scarce information about these supplements. Their knowledge is limited to what they just see in commercials and read in the advertisements.

Dr. Oscar Gutierrez Jr., food and drug relation officer of the Policy Planning Office, Food and Drug Administration, admitted that there is a dramatic increase in the availability of herbal medicines, food and supplements for cancer patients.

He said: “Many of these herbal medicines, food and supplements are very attractive to cancer patients due to their (claimed) advertised quick results and some for their low price tags. However, it is still important for patients to be aware of what these products are for and what they really are.”

Gutierrez added: “They are supplements that are made to support nutrition and healthcare, not to be made as substitute for mainstream healthcare and medicines. They have no approved therapeutic claims and no documented curative effects. Patients should always seek proper healthcare and treatment from their doctors.”

Truthful, valid label claims

According to him, the FDA has issued circulars and administrative orders that put correct labeling for supplements to ensure that the products are not commercially sold or advertised with therapeutic claims. “We make sure that these products carry the label ‘No approved therapeutic claims,’” he stressed.

Gutierrez also said: “The FDA ensures safety as well as truthfulness and validity of label claims. These products do not have the curative effects, and testimonials or anecdotal information associated with healing and curing are not allowed. We recommend that patients seek professional medical advice.”

According to Gutierrez, of the 650 approved dietary supplements there is no approved dietary supplement for cancer.

Medical and technological advances in cancer research have made more people survive this death-causing ailment. Among these are innovative cancer medicines backed by clinical trials, personalized healthcare or fitting the treatment to patients, proper and accurate diagnosis, targeted and biologic therapies, multidisciplinary treatment and side-effect management.

Prevention, early detection

PSMO president Felycette Gay Lapus said: “We continue in our quest to arm the public with as much information as possible. Prevention and early detection are ultimate goals in decreasing the cancer incidence and increasing cancer survival in the country. It is equally important for patients to receive proven, effective and safe cancer therapies as early as possible.”

Aware that cancer patients want to try alternative treatment, Dr. Elle May Villegas, PSMO vice president and multimedia commitee chair, presented to the media the benefits of integrative oncology. She said integrative oncology is a safe way for cancer patients to mix alternative therapies such as acupuncture, massage, diet management, music therapy, meditation or yoga along with their standard cancer treatment.

She warned: “These methods should not be used alone to replace research-based and standard-of-care cancer treatment, but they can be used with them. It is important to retain proper treatment to get best results.”

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