Purpose Of This Summary
This PDQ cancer information summary has current information about the use of nutrition and dietary supplements for reducing the risk of developing prostate cancer or for treating prostate cancer. It is meant to inform and help patients, families, and caregivers. It does not give formal guidelines or recommendations for making decisions about health care.
Listen To What Your Body Is Telling You
Most patients experience little or no side effects during cancer treatment, while some experience any of a number of side effects. Side effects can occur the same day or after treatment.
Thats because while radiation therapy mostly affects cancerous cells, it can impact healthy cells as well. When good cells are affected, patients may experience various side effects.
The location of the body targeted by radiation therapy can cause different side effects including:
- weight loss
Throughout your treatment, listen to your body and adjust your diet according to what it is telling you. You may find only some foods taste good on a given day. Be flexible and make adjustments to the foods you eat during radiation treatment.
Your radiation diet may include switching to a bland diet or adding lots of flavorful foods to your meals. Tell your doctor if you begin to experience any side effects from your radiation therapy.
Why People With Cancer Use Dietary Supplements
Dietary supplements are also called nutritional supplements.
You might need to have dietary supplements if you have low levels of particular nutrients. For example, hormone therapy can weaken your bones. So your doctor might give you calcium and vitamin D supplements.
Or, your cancer might stop you from easily absorbing nutrients from your food. So your doctor might prescribe a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement.
Many people with cancer use dietary supplements to help fight their cancer or make them feel better. Most people use supplements alongside their conventional cancer treatments, such as radiotherapy or chemotherapy. But others choose to use them instead of conventional treatments.
Having dietary supplements instead of conventional cancer treatment could be harmful to your health. It might greatly reduce the chance of curing or controlling your cancer.
It is important to talk to a health professional if you’re thinking of taking nutritional supplements. If you are having eating difficulties or trouble maintaining your weight your specialist might refer you to a dietitian. They can given advice on diet and supplements.
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Astragalus Supplements May Help Rebuild Your Immune System After Cancer Treatment
What is astragalus?
For more than 2,000 years, astragalus has been an integral part of traditional Chinese medicine. Because of its powerful ability to stimulate the bodys immune system, this herb is particularly valuable for fighting disease and dealing with the after-effects of cancer treatments.
Botanically, its related to licorice and the pea. Medicinally, the herbs root is its most important part. Astragalus root is loaded with health-promoting substances like polysaccharides, a class of carbohydrates that appears to be responsible for the herbs immune-boosting effects.
What does astragalus do?
Astragalus may enhance overall health by improving a persons resistance to disease, increasing stamina and promoting general well-being. It also acts as an antioxidant, helping the body correct or prevent cell damage, and may have antiviral and antibiotic properties as well.
Astragalus is used to rebuild the immune system of people undergoing radiation or chemotherapy for cancer-it increases the bodys production of white blood cells. For this reason, it may be useful in treating patients with low white blood cell counts.
How to take astragalus
Should You Use Dietary Supplements During Cancer Treatment
From vitamin A to calcium to folate to zinc, there are dozens of types of supplements. And if youre undergoing cancer treatment, you may be wondering if supplements are right for you.
Although there can be benefits to taking supplements, there are also risks. We spoke with Gabriel Lopez, M.D., medical director of MD Andersons Integrative Medicine Center, to better understand these products and what cancer patients should know.
Heres what he shared.
What are supplements? And can you tell us about the different types of supplements?
Supplements are a liquid or pill concentrate of vitamins, herbs, minerals or specific nutrients that can be consumed to support your health.
Multivitamin supplements are a combination of vitamins, minerals and other ingredients taken in pill form. Theyre meant to increase nutrients in your diet.
Herbal supplements, which are made from plants, are typically used for their medicinal or therapeutic properties. They often come in the form of tea, fresh or dried plants, liquid extracts or powders.
When may a cancer patient need supplements?
If you follow a strict vegan or vegetarian diet, your doctor may prescribe a supplement since a vitamin B12 deficiency is a concern.
What are the risks of taking supplements?
If youre undergoing surgery, its also important to avoid supplements that may increase bleeding risk, such as garlic extract, ginseng extract, bilberry extract and fish oil.
What are some common misconceptions about supplements?
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Why Fiber Is So Good For Your Gut Health
The reishi mushroom is considered the King of Chinese medicine because of its incredible immune boosting properties. It is not your pizza topping kind of fungus. Boosting your immunity with supermushrooms like reishi will help your body defend itself against toxins and may reduce the impact after exposure to radiation.
Ashwaganda, or Indian ginseng, is a powerful Ayurvedic tonic herb that helps the body deal with stress. American and Siberian Ginseng can do this too. Even if you don’t feel like you’re under stress, when your immune system is fighting something foreign and potentially harmful, it stresses the entire body. So using adaptogens like ashwaganda and ginseng can enhance your overall body immunity performance. Likewise, vitamin C is an indispensible nutrient for boosting immunity and helping the body trigger its own defenses. It strengthens cells by acting almost like cement or glue, making it difficult for radioactive or cancer cells to penetrate and corrupt healthy cells. You cannot overdose on vitamin C, and Nobel Prize winner, Dr. Linus Pauling, used it in incredibly high dosesover 100,000 milligrams dailyto treat serious illnesses such as cancer.
Radiation can also increase our susceptibility to dehydration. And when we’re fighting off any unwelcome guests, it’s critical that we stay hydrated so that our body’s natural defenses are working properly. Even if you don’t feel thirsty , drink at least 8 glasses of water a day.
Specific Nutritional Interventions During Radiotherapy
Low-residue diet. Fiber slows gastrointestinal transit time and thus may not be appropriate for patients at risk for intestinal blockage or patients who have been advised to eat a low-residue diet . Patients who have had abdominal surgery or abdominal or pelvic irradiation are at increased risk of developing bowel obstruction .
Multivitamins and antioxidants. In one study of 2264 women, 81% took different antioxidants throughout treatment after a diagnosis of breast cancer. There was a decreased risk of breast cancer recurrence in those taking vitamins C and E and decreased risk of death from any cause in those taking vitamin E. In contrast, there was an increased risk of death from any cause and death from breast cancer in those taking combination carotenoids . That same cohort of breast cancer patients was also assessed for multivitamin use. Those taking a multivitamin before diagnosis and throughout treatment had a reduced risk of breast cancer recurrence and total mortality. Women who took multivitamins before and after diagnosis, ate more fruits and vegetables, and were more physically active had better overall survival . The Shanghai breast cancer survivor study, another large trial, did not show the same beneficial effects of vitamins C or E or multivitamin use with radiotherapy, but this may be because fewer patients took a supplement after radiation .
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External Beam Radiation Therapy
External beam radiation therapy is the most widely used method of radiation therapy. A machine called a linear accelerator is used to deliver the radiation beam to the tumor . Techniques to specifically target the tumor and spare healthy tissue have improved over time however, healthy tissue damage continues to be a problematic side effect of EBRT. Strategies for managing these side effects are discussed at length in the âPreventing Damage to Healthy Tissueâ section.
EBRT can be delivered in various ways:
How The Diet Can Change During Radiation Therapy
When it comes to healthy eating, we know that usually means eating plenty of vegetables and fruits. But what about milkshakes and gravy sauce? Would you ever expect those to be good for you too?
Your diet during radiation might include foods you wouldnt normally eat when otherwise healthy. Thats because your bodys needs during radiation are different.
What you eat during radiation therapy will be a combination of what tastes good and what your body needs during treatment. For example, here are some of the ways that the key components of your diet may change:
Calories: Some radiation patients need a higher-calorie diet to make sure that the food they are able to eat provides the body with enough energy to promote healthy tissue growth.
Protein: Protein helps maintain muscle and supports a healthy immune system both critical functions needed during radiation. Thats why many radiation patients also have high protein diets.
Vitamins and Minerals: Vitamins and minerals also help keep the immune system strong and support healthy tissue repair. Maintaining adequate levels can be important. You should discuss with your doctor whether vitamin supplements are recommended. In some cases, your doctor may recommend you stop certain supplements during radiation therapy.
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Can Antioxidants Help Or Hurt During Radiation Therapy For Cancer
In this paper Dr.Kenneth Conklin, MD, Ph.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles Medical Center, questions the theoretical basis for the argument against concurrent anti-oxidant usage while undergoing RT.
Dr. Conklin acknowledges that radiation does indeed kill cells by generating high levels of free radicals, but this does not necessarily preclude the use of antioxidants as adjuvant dietary supplements during treatment. Conklin points out that radiotherapy is most useful in well-oxygenated tissues.
Antioxidants, as a class, improve blood flow and therefore promote the normal oxygenation of tissues, thereby rendering tumors morenot lesssusceptible to radiation.
Numerous studies have shown that vitamin E and selenium, two known anti-oxidants, protect against radiation-induced cancers.
A precise combination of antioxidants can help decrease damage expected from radiotherapy, including the formation of other cancer, especially in high-dose radiation since RT reduces tissue antioxidants.
In laboratory animals, for example, radiation exposure has demonstrated to reduce cellular vitamin E levels.
In other studies, radiation has shown to reduce bone marrow vitamin C and E levels, and in clinical studies in breast cancer patients, vitamin A, C, and E and selenium levels were found to be reduced during cancer radiotherapy.
Skin Systemic And Other Radiation Side Effects
Acute radiation dermatitis . Dermatitis is a common side effect of radiotherapy, and skin reactions can be more severe depending on many factors, including a larger treatment field, larger total dose of radiation, and a longer duration of treatment. Dermatitis includes redness , pain, and peeling skin . Skin changes can occur in up to 95% of patients receiving radiotherapy and may limit treatment for some patients .
Several dressings and films used to treat radiation dermatitis can provide a moist healing environment that helps cells migrate across the wound, thereby shortening healing time. Topical agents, such as the topical antibiotic silver sulfadiazine and the anti-inflammatory cream trolamine , are commonly prescribed at the onset of radiation dermatitis or at the beginning of radiotherapy. Trolamine is a water-based emulsion used in France since 1973 to alleviate symptoms of radiation dermatitis .
Radiation-induced fibrosis. Fibrosis, or thickening of connective tissue, is a serious late effect of radiotherapy that can affect the skin . Twenty-two patients who developed radiation-induced fibrosis following radiotherapy for breast cancer were treated orally with 800 mg pentoxifylline and 1000 IU vitamin E daily. The area of radiation-induced fibrosis was significantly reduced after six months, with no adverse effects noted . For more information on fibrosis, see the section titled âLung toxicity.â
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Supplements For Cancer: Garlic
Many studies have found that people who eat a lot of garlic are less likely to develop certain common cancers.
That garlic research has led scientists to wonder whether garlic may have cancer-treating properties as well as cancer-prevention capabilities. Although studies are not yet conclusive, there is some evidence that garlic may be useful for cancer in conjunction with medical treatments.
For starters, garlic may be beneficial for cancer patients owing to its immune-boosting abilities, which vary depending on how the garlic has been processed. Additionally, certain substances found in garlic have been shown to suppress growth and fight certain cancerous cells in the lab, including forms of breast and lung cancer.
Early studies have shown that eating garlic can decrease the risk of colorectal cancer and stomach cancer. The same benefit was not found with garlic supplements. However, preliminary prostate cancer research on men in China has shown that both eating garlic and garlic supplements may decrease the risk of prostate cancer.
Food To Eat During Radiation Treatment
Including these 5 components in a healthy diet during radiation therapy is a recipe for a swift recovery with fewer side effects. Radiation therapy can change how a patients body accepts certain foods and uses nutrients. Each radiation therapy patient reacts differently to treatment but here are the basic guidelines to develop a diet while undergoing radiation therapy for cancer:
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Questions And Answers About Calcium
Calcium is a mineral that is needed for basic blood vessel, muscle, and nerve functioning, for sending signals from cell to cell, and for releasing hormones. It is the most common mineral in the body. The body stores calcium mainly in bone tissue.
The main sources of calcium are in foods and dietary supplements. About one-third of dietary calcium comes from milk and milk products like cheese and yogurt. Vegetable sources include Chinese cabbage, kale, and broccoli. Foods may have calcium added, such as fruit juices and drinks, tofu, and cereals.
Most research about calcium and prostate cancer risk has studied calcium in the diet and not calcium in supplements.
See the Laboratory/Animal/Preclinical Studies section of the health professional version of Prostate Cancer, Nutrition, and Dietary Supplements for information on laboratory and animal studies done using calcium.
Dietary Supplements Without Antioxidant Properties
Many nonantioxidant supplements are widely taken by cancer patients although their effects on the efficacy of chemotherapy treatments are controversial. Among these are soy foods and soy products, fatty acids, and vitamin D.
Soy protein and isoflavones.
Soy protein is the highest quality protein found in the plant kingdom and is eaten as a staple by two-thirds of the world’s population. On the basis of numerous studies demonstrating that soy protein reduces serum cholesterol levels, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the health claim that eating 25 g/d of soy protein reduces the risk of heart disease .
A lot of evidence suggests that soy consumption may decrease breast cancer risk. This decrease has been largely attributed to isoflavones in the soy protein, primarily the phytoestrogens genistein and daidzein. Soy isoflavones inhibit the growth of both estrogen receptorâpositive and receptorânegative breast cancer cells in vitro . In a review of 26 studies of the effects of soy or soy isoflavones on eight cancer sites in animals, soy had positive effects in most cases . None of these studies indicated that soy increases tumor development. However, as recently reviewed, the overall epidemiologic evidence relating soy and breast cancer risk remains controversial .
Polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Dietary supplements during cancer treatment: specific recommendations from the American Institute for Cancer Research
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After Radiation Therapy: Pay Attention To Your Treated Skin
Some side effects occur weeks, months, or years after your last radiation treatment. This can happen even if you had no side effects during treatment. To catch these side effects early, dermatologists recommend the following:
Watch your treated skin for signs of change. After treatment, its important to pay close attention to the skin that was treated with radiation therapy.If you see redness, a rash, or any other change, call your oncologist or dermatologist.
Rash caused by radiation therapy
The right skin care may lessen the side effects that develop on your skin.
Protect the treated area from the sun. Anyone who has had radiation treatments has a higher risk of developing skin cancer in that area. Skin cancer tends to show up many years later, so this makes sun protection essential for life.To find out how to protect your skin, go to Prevent skin cancer.
Make an appointment to see a board-certified dermatologist. By having a dermatologist, you have a specialist to see if you develop a skin problem later. This is especially important since you have a higher risk of developing skin cancer.