Supplement and Herb Use


Few clinicians are asking about their use and most lack knowledge about them.

Assessing and reconciling the patient’s home medications, including over-the-counter and other non-prescription items such as supplements and herbs, are routine components of patient care. In addition, a qualified individual, such as the patient’s physician or a pharmacist, should be examining the list for potential drug-drug and drug-food interactions. In order to learn more about oncologists’ knowledge, attitudes, and practice patterns of supplement and herb use by their patients, researchers surveyed a random sample of 1,000 members of the American Society of Clinical Oncology via mail and email. Questions covered several topics, including communication patterns, attitudes about supplement and herb use, education about these items, and knowledge of their adverse effects.

The response rate was 42% (392 oncologists). The responding oncologists discussed use of supplements and herbs with 41% of their patients, and only 26% of discussions were initiated by the oncologist. Two of three oncologists indicated they did not have enough knowledge to answer patients’ questions, and 59% had not received any education about supplement and herb use. Interestingly, the oncologists estimated that at least 40% of their patients took supplements or used herbs. The researchers concluded that oncologists lack knowledge about supplement and herb use and are not initiating discussion about their use. Although this survey targeted oncologists only and was a small survey, it’s likely that oncology nurses also have a knowledge deficit about patients’ supplement and herb use.


Lee RT. National survey of US oncologists’ knowledge, attitudes, and practice patterns regarding herb and supplement use by patients with cancer. JCO 2014;32(6):4095-4101.

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