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Quick Uptakes
June 28, 2000

Do Ask, Do Tell

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JAMA. 2000;283(24):3189. doi:10.1001/jama.283.24.3189-JQU00004-2-1

A new study of patients being treated for cancer shows that as many as 40% are taking unconventional medical therapies but don't disclose that information to physicians unless they specifically are asked.

The study, presented last month at the American Society for Clinical Oncology meeting in New Orleans, included 196 patients who were asked during an initial consultation if they took prescription drugs or over-the-counter preparations. Thirteen of the patients said they were using an unconventional therapy, defined in the study as any unproved therapy to treat cancer, manage symptoms, or prevent new cancers. Examples include St John's wort, shark cartilage, and large doses of vitamins.

Researchers then asked the remaining 183 cancer patients specific questions about unconventional therapies—whether they took any herbal supplements, vitamins that were not prescribed by a physician, or other preparations. Seventy-nine patients said they used such therapies.

"It's crucial for physicians to ask more specific questions so they'll know exactly what their patients are taking, in an effort to avoid the possibility of any harmful drug interactions," said lead author James Metz, MD, of the University of Pennsylvania Cancer Center.