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Should I take vitamins when having chemotherapy?

Is there anything I can do to help my immune system during my chemotherapy? I have been taking vitamins, but have seen something on the internet saying this might affect my treatment.

This is a common worry for people with cancer. We don't really know what effect, if any, taking vitamin or mineral supplements has on chemotherapy. Some doctors are wary of patients taking anything that boosts the immune system while they are having cancer treatment. Anti oxidant supplements such as Co enzyme Q10, selenium and the vitamins A, C and E can help to prevent cell damage. Some doctors think that chemotherapy may work less well if you are taking anything that helps cells to recover. But at the moment there is so little research that we just don't know for sure.

We don't yet know much scientifically about how some nutritional supplements or herbal supplements may interact with chemotherapy. Some could be harmful. It is very important to let your doctors know if you take any supplements. Also let them know if you are prescribed them by alternative therapy or complementary therapy practitioners.

Guidance by the Royal College of Radiologists states that very little is known about the interactions between cancer treatments and nutritional supplements. They advise that if you are not able to eat a normal, balanced diet and want to take vitamin supplements you can take a good quality, one a day multivitamin and mineral pill. And you should make sure that you don't take more than the stated dose. The Royal College of Radiologists also advises that patients should avoid antioxidant supplements, especially in high doses, during their conventional cancer therapy.  

It is important, during chemotherapy treatment, not to give yourself a hard time. Try to eat if you can. But don't get upset if there are days when you can't. You will be able to make up for the more difficult days between treatments and after your treatment has finished. Drink plenty of fluids to flush the drugs through your kidneys. 

It is important to drink enough fluids even if you are feeling sick. If you have problems with sickness or diarrhoea, then it is important to tell your specialist or chemotherapy nurse. There are medicines to help control sickness and diarrhoea. 

Try to take gentle exercise every day. But make sure that you rest too. Your body needs to recover and rest is important.

Talk to your specialist about any other supplements, tablets or medicines you are thinking about taking while you are having active cancer treatment. There is information about the safety of herbal, vitamin and diet supplements in the complementary therapies section.

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Updated: 19 January 2015