Shark cartilage, flaxseed and ginseng are unlikely topics of study by members of the American Society for Clinical Oncology. Yet all three were subjects of research presented at the group's annual meeting in Chicago in June.
Flaxseed showed potential in treating prostate cancer, and ginseng research suggested the herb might help fight fatigue in cancer patients. But shark cartilage pretty much sank as an alternative therapy for cancer.
The unusual attention given to these alter?native therapies by a conventional medical organization like the ASCO acknowledges the realities of today's do-it-yourself patient.
"The use of complementary and alternative medicine to treat cancer and its side effects has been widespread, but there have been few studies designed to scientifically evaluate whether a particular approach is effective," said Dr. Bruce D. Cheson, head of hematology at the Washington, D.C.-based Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center and Georgetown University Hospital. "One of the most common questions patients ask me is about these things they have snookered away in their purses and pocketbooks."
The shark cartilage clinical trial initially had promise, according to Dr. Charles Lu, principal investigator of the study. Cartilage has been found to contain substances that impede the formation of blood vessels—one way to cut off the blood supply to a tumor. But using the extract in conjunction with other therapies did nothing to boost survival rates.
On the other hand, flaxseed, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, appeared to slow tumor growth in men with prostate cancer.
"We know that many of our patients take a variety of dietary supplements. These results demonstrate that flaxseed may well protect against prostate cancer growth," reported Wendy Demark-Wahnefried, a professor in the school of nursing and the department of surgery at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., and the study's senior author.
And in a third study, about 25 percent of cancer patients receiving between 1,000 and 2,000 milligrams of powdered ginseng extract each day reported improve?ments in fatigue compared with only 10 percent who took smaller amounts of ginseng or a placebo.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 7/p.15