Certain over-the-counter supplements can make chemotherapy less effective or even be the reason a breast cancer surgery is delayed.
There is no specific diet that can help patients prepare for a breast cancer surgery, and certain supplements can even be harmful in the pre-operative setting, explained Dr. Kristin Emilia Rojas, a breast surgical oncologist at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami.
“A lot of supplements can actually increase your risk of bleeding. Sometimes I’ve even had to unfortunately cancel a surgery if a patient is taking a supplement that might increase that risk,” Rojas said in an interview with CURE® where she discussed how patients can best prepare for breast cancer surgery. “A week before surgery, only take medications prescribed to you and stay as physically active as possible.”
Potentially harmful supplements – especially for patients who are receiving neoadjuvant (pre-surgical) treatment – can include over-the-counter medications for hot flashes, which tend to have a high number of estrogen-like compounds in them, Rojas noted. These can increase the risk of blood clots.
“We don’t want patients starting any new types of hormonal medications around the time of surgery. And when I say hormonal medications, I’m not talking about the pills that your medical oncologist gives you to block estrogen. We want to keep those separate,” Rojas said.
Additionally, antioxidants are typically touted as health-promoting substances, but they can be harmful when taken during breast cancer treatment, as antioxidants can potentially mitigate the effects of chemotherapy.
Rojas explained that chemotherapy works by creating free radicals that fight cancer cells; antioxidants, however, fight free radicals.
Finally, patients should steer clear of any supplements that affect liver function, Rojas said.
“Your liver is in charge of making molecules in your body that are important to make blood clots and heal,” Rojas said. “So if your liver function is disrupted before surgery, it can increase your risk of bleeding. We definitely don’t want patients to have that.”
Since over-the-counter supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, it is critical that patients talk with their health care providers about any supplements and medications that they are taking.
“We don’t always know all the ingredients (in supplements). We don’t know the quantity of ingredients and all the different effects they can have on patients,” Rojas said.
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