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Chemotherapy: What To Do While In Treatment

Chemotherapy And Vitamins

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© American Cancer Society 2010

Many people want to take an active role in improving their general health in order to help their body's natural defenses fight the cancer and to speed up their recovery from the side effects of chemotherapy.

Because most people think of vitamins as a safe way to improve health, it is not surprising that many people with cancer take high doses of one or more vitamins. But few people realize that some vitamins might make their chemotherapy less effective.

Certain vitamins, such as A, E, and C act as antioxidants. This means that they can prevent formation of ions that damage DNA. This damage is thought to have an important role in causing cancer. There is some evidence that getting enough of these vitamins (through a balanced diet and, perhaps, by taking vitamin suppplements) may help reduce the risk of developing some types of cancer.

On the other hand, some chemotherapy drugs (and radiation) work by producing these same types of ions to severely damage the DNA of cancer cells, so the cells are unable to grow and reproduce. Some scientists believe that taking high doses of antioxidants during treatment may make chemotherapy or radiation less effective. Few studies have been done to thoroughly test this theory. Until we know more about the effects of vitamins on chemotherapy drugs, many oncologists recommend the following during chemotherapy:

  • If your doctor has not prescribed vitamins for a specific reason, it is best not to take any on your own.
  • A simple multivitamin is probably acceptable for people who want to take a vitamin supplement, but always check with your doctor first.
  • It is safest to avoid taking high doses of antioxidant vitamins during chemotherapy treatment. Ask your doctors when it might be safe to start such vitamins after treatment is finished.
  • If you are concerned about nutrition, you can usually get plenty of vitamins by eating a well-balanced diet.

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