Harvard Health Letter

Keeping cancer from coming back

Should cancer survivors take vitamin supplements? Aspirin may be a better bet.

About 12 million Americans are cancer survivors, and the number is almost certainly going to increase because of early detection, better treatment, and an aging population. After the first encounter with the disease and the ordeal of treatment, attention swivels to what can be done to prevent a second one. As many as a third of cancer survivors start taking vitamin and mineral supplements. But should they? The American Cancer Society recommends staying away from high-dose supplements and sticking to the standard multivitamin just to fill in the nutritional gaps left by less-than-perfect diets. Other cancer organizations are similarly cautious.

Two Harvard researchers, Edward Giovannucci and Andrew T. Chan, reviewed the evidence for vitamin and mineral supplements for cancer survivors in an article published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology in 2010. Perhaps the most surprising thing they had to say is that studies of cancer survivors taking vitamins and minerals after their diagnosis haven't been done, so direct evidence is "essentially nonexistent."

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