Channing Paller, MD

Assistant Professor of Oncology
Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Sibley Memorial Hospital
Washington, DC
Assistant Professor of Oncology, Department of Oncology, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
Baltimore, MD

image of Dr. Channing Paller
Abstract: Numerous drugs that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved for use in cancer therapy are derived from plants, including taxanes such as paclitaxel and vinca alkaloids such as vinblastine. Dietary supplements are another category of natural products that are widely used by patients with cancer, but without the FDA-reviewed evidence of safety and efficacy--be it related to survival, palliation, symptom mitigation, and/or immune system enhancement-that is required for therapy approval. Nearly half of patients in the United States with cancer report that they started taking new dietary supplements after being given a diagnosis of cancer. Oncologists are challenged in providing advice to patients about which supplements are safe and effective to use to treat cancer or the side effects of cancer therapy, and which supplements are antagonistic to standard treatment with chemotherapy, radiation, and/or immunotherapy. Despite the large number of trials that have been launched, the FDA has not approved any dietary supplement or food to prevent cancer, halt its growth, or prevent its recurrence. We will review the primary challenges faced by researchers attempting to conduct rigorous trials of natural products, including shortages of funding due to lack of patentability, manufacturing difficulties, contamination, and lack of product consistency. We will also highlight the methods used by dietary supplement marketers to persuade patients that a supplement is effective (or at least safe) even without FDA approval, as well as the efforts of the US government to protect the health and safety of its citizens by ensuring that the information used to market natural products is accurate. Finally we will close with a summary of the most widely used databases of information about the safety, efficacy, and interactions of dietary supplements.