If you’re being treated for cancer, I have two questions for you:

#1:  Are you using herbs and supplements as part of your cancer treatment?
#2:  Have you talked in a meaningful way with your oncologist about them?

Most cancer patients would answer “yes” and then “no” to these two questions.

Surveys have found more than 80% of people diagnosed with cancer use herbs and supplements alongside their conventional treatments [1][2].
Alarmingly, it’s estimated 40%-77% of patients don’t talk about their use of herbs and supplements with their physicians [3].

Another challenge is oncologists often fail to ask patients about their use of herbs and supplements [4]. They tend to avoid the topic because most report not having enough knowledge in this area to answer questions from patients [4].

Mutual silence about using herbs and supplements during cancer treatment puts patients at risk.

There is evidence certain combinations of herbs, supplements, and conventional treatments are harmful. For example, curcumin may interfere with the effectiveness of tamoxifen [5], and both iron and vitamin B12 may interfere with some chemotherapy regimens [6].

Harmful combinations are likely common. One survey found 40% of patients were using natural medicine that “could be cause for concern when taken with one or more of the chemotherapy medications they were receiving [7].”  And yet, it’s not satisfactory to simply stop all herbs and supplements during cancer treatment as this simplistic strategy deprives patients of significant evidence-based benefits.

Consider melatonin. A large body of research indicates high-dose melatonin taken during conventional treatment not only improves treatment response but also reduces a broad spectrum of harmful side effects [8][9]. Melatonin is but one example of the many herbs and supplements that can help cancer patients.

It’s time to realize that silence on the topic of herbs and supplements during cancer treatment is no longer acceptable.

So, as a patient, what should you do?

First and foremost, talk with your oncologists about herbs and supplements and don’t be secretive about your desire to incorporate them into your treatment plan. If your oncologists don’t have answers for you, ask them who does and ask for a referral.  Be polite, but insist on explanations and evidence.

With professional guidance, herbs and supplements can help cancer patients.

It’s time we talk about them.


Dr. Todd Robinson is a friend of Ackerman Cancer Center. He has been a trusted resource for our patients and a knowledgeable partner in our Lifestyle Beyond Cancer series. Dr. Robinson owns and operates Natural Medicine Advisors where he offers telehealth consultations on the integration of natural medicine into any conventional treatment plan, be it for cancer or another medical condition.