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Mayo Clinic study finds lung cancer patients who take vitamin supplements experience improved survival and quality of life
A study published in the July 2005 issue of the journal Lung Cancer (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/01695002) found that men and women with non-small cell lung cancer who took vitamin and mineral supplements following their diagnosis experienced double the average survival time and better quality of life compared to those who did not use supplements.
The current study followed 1,129 individuals with non-small cell lung cancer who were a part of the Mayo Clinic lung cancer cohort. Participants completed questionnaires concerning vitamin and mineral supplement use, cancer treatment and progression, and quality of life six months after diagnosis, at one year, and yearly thereafter through the fall of 2002. The patients' treatments were not influenced by participation in the study, and consisted of surgery, radiaiton, chemotherapy and/or supportive care based on tumor stage, co-existing conditions and health status.
Sixty-three percent of the participants reported using vitamin/mineral supplements during the follow-up period. Median survival in the supplement group was 4.3 years compared to 2 years among those who were nonusers. After adjustment for a number of factors, the relative risk of dying experienced by supplement users over the course of the study was calculated to be 26 percent lower than that of those who did not use supplements. Quality of life was also reported as greater among those who used supplements than those who did not.
The authors write that, to their knowledge, the question, "Are these supplements helping or hurting cancer patients?" had never been answered in a large group of cancer patients, particularly among those with non-small cell lung cancer. They conclude, "The present study provides sufficiently compelling data to invite further investigation of vitamins/mineral supplements as adjunctive therapy for cancer aptients in a clinical trial setting and to underscore the need for patients to participate in current ongoing trials."
A report published in the September 2005 issue of the Journal of Urology (http://www.jurology.com) showed that changes in diet and lifestyle reduced a marker of prostate cancer (prostate specific antigen, or PSA) in men with biopsy-confirmed disease. The study is the first randomized controlled trial to demonstrate that lifestyle changes affect any type of cancer progression.
For the current study, Dean Ornish, MD, who is a clinical professor at the University of California, San Francisco, and colleagues enrolled 93 men with prostate cancer who had chosen not to be treated by conventional methods. The men were divided into two groups, one of which was advised to adopt a diet consisting of plant based foods supplemented with soy, vitamins and minerals, while the second group was not advised to make any dietary modifications. The first group also participated in a moderate exercise program and a weekly group support session.
Following a year on the program, PSA levels were reduced in the lifestyle modified group, while they increased in the comparison group, necessitating treatment in some cases.
No one has definitively shown what supplements a cancer patient should take nor at what stage in the disease process the supplements should be initiated. It could be that some dietary supplements are of benefit at some phases of cancer treatment (such as enhancing immune function), but detrimental in others (such as protecting cancer cells against the effects of certain chemotherapy drugs).
Most people familiar with published scientific literature are surprised that there is any argument over the value of dietary supplements and cancer treatment. The problem is the complexity of cancer compared to other diseases. For instance, there is a scientific consensus that folic acid is beneficial in cardiovascular disease patients because it lowers homocysteine and protects the arterial system via other mechanisms; no one argues against this. There is also substantial evidence that folic acid dramatically lowers the risk of many forms of cancer; few scientists disagree with this premise either. However, the role of high-dose folic acid in the treatment of cancer is not as clear-cut. Every human and animal cancer study indicates that folic acid improves survival, yet those familiar with the molecular actions of folic acid are concerned that very high amounts could potentially facilitate cancer cell propagation.
Dr. Charles Simone, a respected voice in natural medicine, cited more than 350 studies involving 2000 cancer patients that showed that antioxidants extended the life span of cancer patients and improved quality of life. One such study involved 50 early stage breast cancer patients, some of whom were relegated to radiation therapy and others to a combination of radiation and chemotherapy. All participants (in union with conventional therapies) took large doses of nutrients. More than 90% of both groups noted improvement in their physical symptoms, cognitive ability, sexual function, general well-being, and life satisfaction. Not one subject in either group reported a worsening of symptoms (Simone et al. 2000).
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