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An analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health Interview Survey, published in JAMA Oncology, has found that one-third of people with a cancer diagnosis use alternative healing approaches, such as acupuncture, herbal supplements, meditation and yoga. Herbal supplements topped the list of such interventions, while chiropractic or osteopathic manipulation was the second most common.

However, some of the findings are concerning to study author Nina Sanford, MD, assistant professor of radiation oncology at UT Southwestern (UTSW) Medical Center—particularly the fact that 29 percent of people who use such interventions don’t discuss them with their physicians. She also worries about the use of supplements. “Unless we know what’s in [them], I would recommend patients avoid using them during radiation because there’s likely not data on certain supplements, which could interfere with treatment. With radiation specifically, there is concern that very high levels of antioxidants could make radiation less effective,” explains Dr. Sanford.

That being said, physicians are far more open to meditation and yoga—especially to help patients cope with the shock of a diagnosis, as well as the stress of chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. “We strongly advise patients to stay active and engage in exercise during treatment,” says Dr. Sanford.

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