Are Your Patients Taking Herbs That May Interact With Their Cancer Drugs?

August 15, 2017

By Jyothirmai Gubili, MS, K. Simon Yeung, Pharm D, Lac, and Susan Schwartz, RN, CBCN®

Many Americans use dietary supplements, including herbal products (, in the belief that they are natural and safe. Patients with cancer use them often to enhance the effects or to reduce the adverse reactions ( of cancer treatments. However, few herbs have been thoroughly studied in humans. Therefore, their interactions with prescription drugs and the clinical relevance, remain undetermined. These interactions could be pharmacokinetic in nature when an herb alters the absorption, metabolism, or excretion of other drugs, or pharmacodynamic in which it affects the mechanism of action of other drugs when consumed together. Following are a few relevant herb-drug interactions encountered in the oncology setting.

The past few decades have witnessed a dramatic increase in the use of herbal supplements, especially by patients with cancer. They often verbalize concerns about the safety of taking dietary supplements while receiving treatment. When reviewing their home medication list, patients are surprised to learn that certain supplements may interfere with their treatment or other drugs they are taking. Oncology nurses can provide patients with education and counseling about potential harmful side effects and drug interactions.

About Herbs, Botanicals, and Other Products (, a resource Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center’s Integrative Medicine Service developed for both patients and healthcare professionals, provides clinically useful and unbiased information about herbs and other dietary supplements. The database currently has 281 entries with a clinical summary, mechanism of action, adverse effects, herb-drug interactions, and potential benefits.

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