Herbal remedies interfere with cancer treatment, leading surgeon says

14 November 2019, 07:38 | Updated: 14 November 2019, 08:36

Breast cancer patients using herbal remedies could be doing more harm than good and delaying their recovery, according to a leading breast cancer surgeon.

Remedies which include garlic, ginger, turmeric and ginseng adversely affect blood clotting, meaning they can stop skin lesions healing when breast cancer spreads, says Professor Maria Joao Cardoso.

Prof Cardoso, head breast surgeon at the Champalimaud Cancer Centre in Portugal, said there is no evidence that herbal remedies and tropical creams treated skin wounds effectively.

They could end up doing "more harm than good", she told the Advanced Breast Cancer conference in Lisbon.

She said: "Many patients do not check and do not tell their doctors that they are using complementary therapies.

"There are many of these therapies, especially herbal products and topical creams, that can have a negative impact in cancer treatment.

"Many compounds are complex and some ingredients can delay healing and interfere with the efficacy of ongoing systemic treatments."

Breast cancer spreads to the skin in as many as a fifth of cases.

The resulting lesions are difficult to treat and can cause physical discomfort and distress.

Prof Cardoso added: "Laboratory studies have shown that certain products can reduce the blood clotting process required for a wound to heal.

"If a patient has a bleeding wound, these compounds can have a strong, adverse impact on scarring and how well wound dressings work."

Prescribed topical treatments are only successful in healing or controlling the wound in half of cases, Prof Cardoso said.

She added that activities such as yoga, acupuncture and Reiki may help patients manage their stress.

Cancer Research UK also claims that complementary therapies may prevent generic treatments working as well as they should.

The charity's website says that there is a "concern" that taking antioxidants, including vitamins A, C and E, could actually protect cancer cells from being damaged by chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

It adds: "Talk to your doctor about any complementary therapies you're thinking of using. Tell them before you start having complementary therapy, especially if you're in the middle of a course of cancer treatment."