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 you’re 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 Anderson’s Integrative Medicine Center, to better understand these products and what cancer patients should know. Here’s 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 (such as protein) that can be consumed to support your health. Multivitamin supplements are a combination of vitamins, minerals and other ingredients taken in pill form. They’re 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? Your doctor may prescribe a supplement if you have or may develop a vitamin deficiency caused by treatment. For example, certain cancer therapies weaken bones and can contribute to the development of osteopenia or osteoporosis. In these cases, your doctor may prescribe calcium and vitamin D to support your bone health. Also, some chemotherapy can lead to decreases in potassium and magnesium, so those may also be supplemented during cancer treatment. In some cases, supplements may also be needed if cancer treatment makes it difficult for you to get the nutrients you need from whole...