Oops, you're using an old version of your browser so some of the features on this page may not be displaying properly.

MINIMAL Requirements: Google Chrome 24+Mozilla Firefox 20+Internet Explorer 11Opera 15–18Apple Safari 7SeaMonkey 2.15-2.23

Trust in non-conventional therapies by cancer patients not matched with proper awareness about their risks

Complementary and alternative medicines are used by 1 in 2 patients before and during cancer treatments, however they are frequently associated with drug-drug interactions, two studies at ESMO 2018 report.
10 Oct 2018
Supportive and Palliative Care;  Targeted Therapy

Lugano-Munich - Sarcoma patients show great openness to the use of complementary alternative medicines (CAMs) for supportive care, but they are poorly informed about safety issues and risk of interactions with anti-cancer drugs, a study to be presented at ESMO 2018 reported. (1)

By administering a structured survey over a 4-month period (1 January – 30 April 2018), a team from the University Hospital Mannheim, Germany, investigated types and modes of use of non-conventional therapies among 152 outpatients with sarcoma, gastrointestinal stromal tumour (GIST) and desmoid tumours receiving care at a sarcoma centre. Researchers considered CAMs as a broad range of practices including supplementation of vitamins or minerals, Chinese or healing herbs, homeopathy, acupuncture, meditation, yoga, Tai Chi or changes in dietary habits, like switching to a ketogenic or vegan diet. The main results showed that 51% of participants had used alternative methods in their lifetime, and 15% of them only during the disease, in parallel with cancer treatments. Also, cancer diagnosis showed to have sparked patients’ interest in CAMs in 44% of participants.

Patients were shown to be selective in their choices, as study supervisor Prof Peter Hohenberger said: “What we found is that vitamins and minerals are very popular but patients take them specifically rather than using multivitamin supplements. Vitamin D is in the leading position, followed by selenium plus zinc, vitamin C, and interest in vitamin B17 is emerging”, he highlighted.

Despite the reported popularity of non-conventional therapies among patients, clear information on their side effects and potential interactions with other drugs is still lacking. In the survey, 60% of patients recognised that information they had on safety issues of CAMs was insufficient, although they showed low concern for any potential risks. Hohenberger said: “When we looked at the sources of information on non-conventional practices, oncologists represented only 7%. In our study, patients mentioned repetitively that they were positively surprised about our interest in their use of CAMs.”

He continued: “Patients mostly accessed information on complementary and alternative medicines on the Internet and other media (43%), friends (15%) and healing professionals (14%). In sharp contrast with this, when it came to finding information on side effects of cancer therapies or how to handle them, almost half of patients asked their oncologist.”

Commenting on these results for ESMO, Dr. Markus Joerger of Cantonal Hospital in St. Gallen, Switzerland, said that the low risk perception associated with CAMs among patients is a big issue. “Patients tend to believe that supplements or herbs are generally safe, but they are not without risk. In daily practice, if you don’t know what your patient is taking as alternative medicine, the risk of drug-drug interactions can significantly increase and have an impact on clinical outcomes.” He also added that oncologists should try to preserve their role as primary source of information for cancer patients: “Although we must not demonise the Internet or other sources of information, getting information outside the clinical setting can often be misleading. Patients have to realise that they can discuss any health-related choices with their oncologist and be advised on different options when they wish to reduce stress related to cancer treatment, or more in general to feel better”, he said.

Drug-drug interactions (DDI) is a relevant but often neglected topic in medical oncology and because sarcomas are so rare (only 1% of all cancer cases) to improve medical knowledge and clinical research in this setting is still a challenge. At ESMO 2018, a retrospective review involving 202 sarcoma patients undergoing chemotherapy or tyrosine kinase inhibitors reported that 18% major drug-drug interactions occurred in the study period (from 2014 to 2018) and that medical reconciliation, making an inventory of all the medicines prescribed to and taken by patients is advised before cancer treatment initiation to prevent adverse effects or ineffective treatments. (2)

Lead author Dr. Audrey Bellesoeur of University Paris Descartes, France, said: “We know from previous research that one in three ambulatory cancer patients are susceptible to potential drug-drug interactions. A better understanding of these mechanisms is necessary today for a real personalised medicine.” In the study, DDI were more frequently observed with tyrosine kinase inhibitors while gemcitabine was associated with a significantly lower risk.

Bellesoeur continued: “In our review, 29% of drug-drug interactions requiring pharmacist interventions were associated with complementary alternative medicines. Risks of interactions with non-conventional drugs are the same as for other co-medications: mainly increased toxicity and loss of efficacy of anti-cancer treatments. However, we often have less information on the composition of these products and their risk of toxicity or interaction when used in combination with other agents.”

According to Joerger, characterising the risk of DDI will be increasingly relevant in the future. “Since more options of care are available, patients are receiving more and more co-medications but they are still not routinely checked for drug-drug interactions. Medical review by a clinical pharmacist can certainly be an effective strategy to avoid or limit them as the study showed.”

“However, cancer centres must also invest in integrative medicine that combines medical anti-cancer treatments with non-conventional therapies. The average oncologist has poor knowledge of these alternative methods; this is mostly due to a lack of studies and databases in the field. More efforts are needed to understand how to deliver mixed treatments safely and to build up experience to better advise our patients”, he concluded.

A first step toward building knowledge in the field is to reach a consensus on what integrative oncology should mean. For this reason, ESMO encourages oncologists and other healthcare professionals to use the more precise definition of complementary and integrative medicine (CIM) when referring to all complementary treatments being used side by side with conventional therapies in controlled settings rather than the acronym CAMs which traditionally includes also treatments used instead of scientifically based medicine.

Based on evidence collected so far in the breast cancer setting, ESMO has recognised the benefits of physical exercise, mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) programmes, hypnosis, yoga and acupuncture in supportive care while the use of antioxidants supplements, herbs, minerals, oxygen and ozone therapy, proteolytic enzymes, phytoestrogens, high-dose vitamins is not recommended as it has been associated to no beneficial effects or negative outcomes (3). 

Reasons for Interst in and Use of CAM

Reasons for interest in and use of CAM, provided by Dr. K.T. Sungu-Winkler, author of abstract 1655P_PR

Notes to Editors

Please make sure to use the official name of the meeting in your reports: ESMO 2018 Congress

Official Congress hashtag: #ESMO18


  1. Abstract 1655P_PR ‘The use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) in sarcoma patients’ will be presented by Kiagenda Trésor Sunku-Winkler during the Poster Display Session on Monday, 22 October 2018, 12:45 to 13:45 (CEST) in Poster Area Networking Hub - Hall A3. Annals of Oncology, Volume 29 Supplement 8 October 2018
  2. Abstract 1632P_PR ‘Characterizing the risk of drug-drug interactions in sarcoma treated patients: role of pharmacist integration’ will be presented by Audrey Bellesoeur during the Poster Display Session on Monday, 22 October 2018, 12:45 to 13:45 (CEST) in Poster Area Networking Hub - Hall A3. Annals of Oncology, Volume 29 Supplement 8 October 2018
  3. F. Cardoso et al. 4th ESO-ESMO International Consensus Guidelines for Advances Breast Cancer (ABC 4). Annals of Oncology 29: 1634-1657, 2018
About the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO)

ESMO is the leading professional organisation for medical oncology. With 18,000 members representing oncology professionals from over 150 countries worldwide, ESMO is the society of reference for oncology education and information. ESMO is committed to offer the best care to people with cancer, through fostering integrated cancer care, supporting oncologists in their professional development, and advocating for sustainable cancer care worldwide. 

A. Bellesoeur1, I. Gataa1, A. Jouinot1, S. El Mershati2, J. Arrondeau1, C. Tlemsani1, B. Blanchet2, J. Alexandre1, F. Goldwasser1, A. Thomas-Schoemann2, P. Boudou Rouquette3
1Oncology, Cochin Hospital, Paris, France, 2Clinical Pharmacology, Cochin Hospital, Paris, France, 3Oncology, Cochin Hospital, CARPEM, Paris Descartes University, AP-HP, Paris, France

Background: Drug–drug interactions (DDI) in oncology are of particular importance owing to the narrow therapeutic index and the toxicity of anticancer agents. Data are scarce in sarcoma patients (pts). We aimed to evaluate the frequency and severity of DDI with chemotherapy (CT) and tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI), identify the risk factors for DDI, and assess the impact of a pharmacist evaluation before anticancer treatment.

Methods: We performed a retrospective review of consecutive sarcoma pts starting CT (doxorubicin, ifosfamide, gemcitabine, trabectedin-based or other) or TKI (pazopanib or other). A pharmacist had prospectively performed medication reconciliation (MR). Potential DDI with antitumor drugs were identified and categorized (by using a 4-point scale) using Micromedex electronic software.

Results: From 2014 to 2018, 122 soft-tissue and 80 bone sarcoma pts (103 males, median age 50 years, Q1-Q3 34-62) were included before CT (86%) or TKI (14%). The median number of medications was 3 (Q1-Q3 2-5), 65 pts (32%) had at least 5 drugs; 34 pts (17%) used complementary and alternative medicines (CAM). 37 potential DDI with severity classified as major, were identified. Univariate analysis identified number of drugs (p<0.001), performance status (p=0.04), pain (p = 0.002), antidepressant (p<0.001), proton pump inhibitors (PPI) (p<0.001) and TKI (p<0.001) as risk factors for DDI. TKI, PPI and antidepressant remained significant in multivariate analysis (p<0.02). Factors associated with CAM use were marital status (p=0.003) and ethnic origin (p= 0.03). A pharmacist performed 157 MR and made 71 interventions among 59 pts (24%) (34 drugs discontinued, 16 replacements, 2 dose adjustments, 19 drug monitoring). Pharmacist interventions were more frequent for TKI than for CT treated pts (63% versus 17%; p<0.001) and 29% of these interventions implied CAM.

Conclusions: Clinical interventions on DDI are more frequently required among sarcoma pts treating with TKI than CT. Medication review by a pharmacist is of crucial importance to prevent DDI with TKI. This review must consider not only traditional medication but also CAM, which are implied in a third of DDI in sarcoma pts.

Legal entity responsible for the study: Cochin Hospital
Funding: Has not received any funding.
Disclosure: All authors have declared no conflicts of interest

K-T. Sungu-Winkler1, J. Hübner2, F. Menge1, B. Kasper3, P. Hohenberger1
1Div. of Surgical Oncology & Thoracic Surgery, Universitätsklinikum Mannheim, Mannheim, Germany, 2Div. of Integrative Oncology, Dept of Medical Oncology/Hematology, Jena, Germany, 3Sarcoma Unit, Interdisciplinary Tumor Center, Universitätsklinikum Mannheim, Mannheim, Germany

Background: The used of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) parallel to targeted or chemotherapy might result in unexpected side effects. The aim of this survey was to determine the use of CAM among patients with biopsy-proven sarcoma, GIST and desmoid tumors.

Methods: From Jan 1 to April 30th, a structured cross-sectional survey was conducted in outpatients in the sarcoma center. We used questionnaires validated in melanoma and breast cancer pts earlier. The chart explored sociodemographic, lifestyle and health-related characteristics as well as the types and modes of CAM use.

Results: The questionnaire was filled out by 325 patients (59% sarcoma, 23% GIST, 18% desmoid). Their mean age was 53 years, 50% women, 47% men and 3% with no mention of gender. The results clearly indicate an interest in CAM, 35% have been interested for a long time in CAM methods and 44% since their tumor diagnosis. CAM usage was reported by 51% of sarcoma patients, of whom 12% used CAM just before the tumor disease, 24% are currently using naturopathic medicine, and 15% used CAM only during the tumor disease, but not currently. The main reasons for the interest in and use of CAM were: to boost the immune system (78%), to help them feel better (76%) and cope with cancer treatment (45%), and to reduce stress (53%), symptoms or side effects (36%). Less than 30% of patients reported taking vitamin and mineral supplementation, especially vitamin D. Compared to males, female patients are more likely to use CAM natural remedies or methods. Of those patients currently using CAM, there was a balance between users of herbal medicine (TCM) and homeopathic approaches at 32% each.

Conclusions: The use of CAM, particularly biologically based therapies is more likely to be used by older patients than younger patients. They describe this as an effective complement to conventional medicine but many patients report that they are not sufficiently informed about risks and benefits of CAM. They also are dissatisfied with the reimbursement of CAM costs by health insurances. The high proportions of patients using CAM that could interfere with oncological drugs via competitive pathways warrants more detailed investigations.

Legal entity responsible for the study: University of Heidelberg, Medical Faculty Mannheim, Germany
Disclosure: All authors have declared no conflicts of interest

Last update: 10 Oct 2018

This press release contains information provided by the authors of the highlighted abstracts and reflects the content of those abstracts. It does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of ESMO who cannot be held responsible for the accuracy of the data. Commentators quoted in the press release are required to comply with the ESMO Declaration of Interests policy and the ESMO Code of Conduct.

This site uses cookies. Some of these cookies are essential, while others help us improve your experience by providing insights into how the site is being used.

For more detailed information on the cookies we use, please check our Privacy Policy.

Customise settings
  • Necessary cookies enable core functionality. The website cannot function properly without these cookies, and you can only disable them by changing your browser preferences.