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Studies look at cancer remedies

Some alternative products are debunked; others appear to help.

June 03, 2007|From the Associated Press

CHICAGO — The first scientific tests of some popular alternative medicine products hint that American ginseng might lessen cancer fatigue and that flaxseed might slow the growth of prostate tumors.

But a big study indicated that shark cartilage was worthless against lung cancer, and doctors said people should not take it.

The research was reported Saturday at an American Society of Clinical Oncology conference.

The ginseng and flaxseed studies are small and preliminary, and specialists warned against making too much of them because the substances tested were not the same as what could be found on store shelves.

But the results suggest that some herbal remedies may find niches for treating specific cancers, symptoms or side effects. Americans spend millions on these products, even though thorough studies do not confirm the products' supposed benefits. The Food and Drug Administration does not review such products before they are marketed.

"One of the most common things patients ask me is about these things they have snookered away in their purses" and medicine chests, said Dr. Bruce D. Cheson, a cancer specialist at Georgetown University Hospital.

Some products such as laetrile or high doses of vitamin C proved not helpful and even harmful for cancer patients once they were scientifically studied, he noted. Some products keep chemotherapy from working as it should.

"Just because it is a vitamin or a leafy green does not ensure it does not have some harmful effects," Cheson said.

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