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Herbal Supplement in Cancer Treatment

Posted Feb 02 2013 9:04pm
A press conference that tackles the use of herbal supplements in cancer treatment. From left are: Dr. Ellie May Villegas and Dr. Felycette Gay Lapus - Philippine Society of Medical Oncology vice president and president respectively, and Dr. Oscar Gutierrez, Jr., food and drug regulation officer of the Department of Health-Food and Drug Administration.
World Cancer Day – Dispelling Myths and Misconceptions 

February 4 is World Cancer Day and this year the focus is on Target 5 of the World Cancer Declaration – dispel damaging myths and misconceptions about cancer, under the tagline “Cancer - Did you know?”

The four myths highlighted include: 1) Cancer is not just a health issue; it has wide-reaching social, economic, development, and human rights implications; 2) Cancer is a disease of the wealthy, elderly and developed countries; but the truth is it affects all ages and socio-economic groups, with developing countries bearing a disproportionate burden; 3) Cancer is a death sentence; but now it can be cured and for many more people, their cancer can be treated effectively; and 4) Cancer is my fate; however the truth lies with the right strategies which can prevent a third of the most common cancers. Early detection and healthy lifestyle remain keys in fighting cancer. 
In the Philippines, the National Cancer Consciousness Week came earlier than the World Cancer Day. It was observed in the third week of January and the Philippine Society of Medical Oncology (PSMO), a scientific and professional organization of medical oncologists, responded to anther myth is becoming a common practice in the country – the use of herbal supplements in cancer treatment.
Herbal Supplements: No Approved Therapeutic Claims 
There is an increasing number of herbal supplements, both food and medicines, being promoted in the Philippines and abroad. Patients have little knowledge about them other than what they see and read in the advertisements; results of which are merely anecdotal. 
The PSMO saw the urgency to demystify the allure of herbal alternatives and inform cancer patients and their families about herbal supplements so that they can make educated and informed decisions about their treatment, and discuss options with their multidisciplinary team of specialists. 
Dr. Oscar Gutierrez Jr., a food and drug regulation officer of the Department of Health- Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said that many of these herbal medicines, food, and supplements have become very attractive to cancer patients due to their advertised quick results, and some for their low price tags. However, these products are supplements made to support nutrition and health care and not as a substitute for mainstream health care and medicines. They have no approved therapeutic claims and no documented curative effects. Thus, patients should always seek proper health care and treatment from their doctors. 
He defined dietary or food supplements as processed food products intended to supplement the diet that bears or contains one or more of the following dietary ingredients: vitamin, mineral, herb, or other botanical, amino acid, or dietary substance to increase total daily intakes in amounts conforming to the latest RENI or internationally agreed minimum daily requirements. 
These supplements are usually in capsule, tablet, liquid, gel, powder, or pill forms. They are not used as conventional food or as the sole item of a meal or diet and they are not replacement for drugs and medicines. “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, and we make sure that these products carry the label ‘No Approved Therapeutic Claims,’” Gutierrez said. He added that the FDA ensures safety as well as truthfulness and validity of label claims. These products do not have curative effects and testimonials or anecdotal information associated with healing and curing are not allowed. “We recommend that patients seek professional medical advice,” he stressed. 
Several medical and technological advances have been made in cancer research and more people are surviving cancer. These include innovative cancer medicines backed by clinical trials, personalized health care or fitting the treatment to the patients, proper and accurate diagnosis, targeted and biologic therapies, multidisciplinary treatment and side-effect management. Targeted therapies and diagnostic tests not only help improve medical decision-making but also offer clinical benefits for patients. All of these together have resulted in more Filipinos surviving cancer. 
Integrative Oncology 
Dr. Ellie May Villegas, PSMO vice president, shared the benefits of integrative oncology in cancer treatment. She said that cancer patients want to try alternative treatment, and integrative oncology is the safe way for patients to mix alternative therapies such as acupuncture, massage therapies, diet management, music therapy, meditation, or yoga alongside their standard cancer treatment. These methods, however, should not be used alone or to replace research-based and standard of care cancer treatment. 
It is still important to retain proper cancer treatment to get best results. Villegas explained that Integrative oncology employs evidence-based complementary therapies to control physical and emotional symptoms. They are non-invasive, non-toxic, and are adjunctive therapies. They are used with the standard of care treatment and not as the mainstream care. There is a growing international demand for integrative oncology because symptom relief is sought by patients under active treatment; symptom relief and guidance are also sought during survivorship; and cancer patients want complementary therapies. 
She cautioned the public that integrative cancer therapies do not treat tumors but only control physical and emotional symptoms. There are no viable alternatives to mainstream cancer treatment, but sadly many agents and regimens are promoted for use instead of mainstream care for cancer and other serious illnesses. 
Correct Information in Cancer Management 
Dr. Felycette Gay Lapus, PSMO president, said prevention and early detection are ultimate goals in decreasing the cancer incidence and increasing survival rates in the country. It is equally important for patients to receive proven, effective, and safe cancer therapies as early as possible. The PSMO feels that it is imperative that they inform the public with documented facts regarding the use and misuse of herbal supplements to replace standard cancer treatment. 
She reiterated that the main goal for cancer management is still correct information. The more a patient is knowledgeable about the facts, the more he/she can make educated decisions with his doctors on the right course of effective and safe treatment. “Herbal supplements and alternative treatment cannot replace proven medicines that should be the standard of care in cancer management, and while they may seem appealing, patients should be vigilant that they are not being misled by false promises,” Lapuz concluded. 
The PSMO can be reached through or call the PSMO Secretariat at (63-2) 721-9326.
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