Doctors Warn That Some Topical Herbal Remedies Can Negatively Affect Breast Cancer Treatment

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Natural remedies can help ease side effects and symptoms of a variety of illnesses. However, it’s important to let your doctor know what you’re taking, as certain herbal treatments can interfere with medications.

This is especially true if you’re using herbal remedies to treat skin cancer that has metastasized to the skin, research out of Portugal shows.

Around 5% of all tumors (that aren’t skin cancer) can metastasize to the skin. However, breast cancer is the most likely of all cancers to spread to the skin. It occurs in about 20% of metastatic breast cancer cases.

Doctors are warning patients with metastatic breast cancer that using topical treatments with herbs like turmeric, ginseng, ginger, and garlic will likely do more harm than good. They can actually slow down healing of the lesions.

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Complementary treatments can be okay in some cases, but it’s crucial to discuss it with your doctor first.

Professor Maria Joao Cardoso is a breast surgeon who presented her findings about how herbal remedies interact with breast cancer treatment at the Advanced Breast Cancer Fifth International Consensus Conference (ABC5) in Lisbon, Portugal.

“It’s very important that patients always check with their doctors first before trying complementary treatments for cancer that has spread to the skin,” Cardoso says. “Many patients do not check and do not tell their doctors that they are using complementary therapies.”

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It’s common for patients to apply topical creams and treatments to cancerous skin lesions, as they can be uncomfortable and painful. However, herbal remedies only heal or control the wound in 50% of cases or fewer.

Topical herbal remedies can interfere with hormone therapy and chemotherapy, say researchers from Nova Medical School in Portugal, because these are systemic treatments that affect the whole body.

“Many compounds are complex and some ingredients can delay healing and interfere with the efficacy of ongoing systemic treatments,” Cardoso says.

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Herbal remedies can interfere with blood clotting. If the lesion is actively bleeding, applying these types of treatments can delay healing and even exacerbate scarring.

Some herbal remedies that can adversely affect clotting include: green chiretta (Andrographis paniculata), feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium), garlic (Allium sativum), ginger (Zingiber officinalis), ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba), ginseng (Panax ginseng), hawthorn (Crataegus spp.), horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) and turmeric (Curcuma longa).

“These are just some examples,” said Cardoso. “The number of herbal products available is huge and the available evidence for their efficacy is nil.”

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Gentle activities like yoga, acupuncture, and Reiki can aid in managing stress, and so can mindfulness and meditation, Cardoso says.

Talk to your doctor if you are considering using herbal remedies to complement your current breast cancer treatment.

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C. Dixon likes to read, sing, eat, drink, write, and other verbs. She enjoys cavorting around the country to visit loved ones and experience new places, but especially likes to be at home with her husband, son, and dog.
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