Herbal Supplements and Prescriptions, Which Is Best?

Herbal Supplements and Prescriptions,

Which Is Best?

Herbal and prescription awareness monthJuly is Herbal and Prescription Awareness Month. East meets West in medicine and cancer treatments, or does it? Many cancer patients and parents of cancer kids want answers about which is best, herbal or prescription, when to use herbal supplements, or can you use both simultaneously?  Knowing which herbs may interact with medications is especially important. When you have a child with cancer, it is vital to check with your medical professionals before giving any natural or herbal remedies.

Mixed herbal pillsUse Caution with Herbal and Holistic Supplements

It is also important to note that federal law does not require supplements to be proven safe by the FDA. This is because they fall under nutritional supplements. It can cause a lot of confusion about what information is trustworthy and which products are safe. One good resource to start with is the FDA.

Antioxidants and Chemotherapy

For example, many oncologists recommend holding off taking antioxidants during chemotherapy as it can interfere with the effectiveness of the chemotherapy. In addition, new findings suggest that cancer patients and people with an increased risk of cancer should avoid taking antioxidant supplements. This was first reported in 2015 by the National Cancer Institute. Studies showed that antioxidants accelerated the growth and invasiveness of tumors.

“Based on the available evidence, Dr. Bergö of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden said he was extremely concerned with the aggressive marketing of antioxidants to cancer patients. The data strongly suggest that using antioxidants could be really dangerous in lung cancer and melanoma, and possibly other cancers,” he said. And because theres no strong evidence that antioxidants are beneficial, cancer patients should be encouraged to avoid supplements after they have a diagnosis.”

Chemo Interactions With Foods and Supplements

Chart of common drug and food interactions

“The combination of cancer drugs taken by patients and the complementary and alternative medicine may interact, causing adverse outcomes,” according to the National Cancer Institute. “Certain constituents of foods and dietary supplements (e.g., St. John’s wort, grapefruit juice, and epigallocatechin gallate from green tea) can alter the Pharmacokinetics (PK) of specific types of drugs. The PK of a drug predicts therapeutic outcomes for the patient. Various herbs and dietary supplements are known to influence the PK of certain drugs, such as St. John’s wort. Currently, research on dietary supplements and cancer drug PK interactions is limited. But there is evidence for several possible interactions and adverse reactions.” 

St. John’s Wort Interacts with Leukemia Drug

One such interaction is St. John’s Wort on the drug Gleevec used to treat Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) in childhood cancer. There is evidence of this in a clinical study by Berenson, CS, Jusko WJ. This study demonstrated that “co-administration of imatinib with St. John’s Wort may compromise imatinib’s clinical efficacy.”[1]

So before you reach for what seems like a benign cup of tea or harmless herbal supplement, please pause a moment to educate yourself about what effect it may have on cancer and cancer treatments.

Find the Help You Need!

Here to Serve’s dedication to helping families cope with pediatric cancer inspires us to help bring awareness to this vital topic. We at Here to Serve hope this information was informative and encourages you to reach out to your healthcare providers, trusted professional resources, and Here to Serve, who can assist you with valuable support and resources. Here to Serve will help guide you through the challenges of caring for kids with cancer. We provide numerous resources from food and nutrition, meal and housekeeping support, gift cards, and assistance with financial needs. Consider contacting Here to Serve if you or someone you know has been recently diagnosed with childhood cancer. If you are inspired to donate to Here to Serve rest assured they will make the most of your donations to help families and children battling cancer.

By Amanda Enciso

About the Author

Amanda Enciso is a cancer survivor from the Los Angeles area. She volunteers knowing what families endure during the cancer journey and after, as she battles GVHD resulting from her transplant.  While going to school full-time to get a degree in English to start a new career path in life, Amanda finds time to write blogs for Here to Serve.

1. Berenson CS, Jusko WJ. The influence of St. John’s wort on the pharmacokinetics and protein binding of imatinib mesylate. Pharmacotherapy. 2004 Nov;24(11):1508-14. doi: 10.1592/phco.24.16.1508.50958. Erratum in: Pharmacotherapy. 2004 Dec;24(12):1837. PMID: 15537555.

All information on this blog is for informational and educational purposes only. Always consult a medical provider in your particular area of need before making significant changes in your medical decisions or lifestyle.

Leukemia, Understanding the Most Common Childhood Cancer

Understanding Leukemia

The Most Common Childhood Cancer

HTS Girl with BearDid you know Childhood Leukemia is the most common of Childhood Cancers and teens, accounting for almost 1 out of 3 cancers? According to the American Cancer Society, about three out of four leukemias among children and teens is Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL).

Types of Acute Leukemias

The two main types of childhood leukemia are the acute forms of leukemia, which require immediate and aggressive treatment. The focus of this blog will be on acute leukemias, Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL), and Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). 

Lymphoid stem cells

Myeloid stem cell

Childhood Leukemia cancer starts in the blood cells, most often in white blood cells. ALL starts in early white blood cells called lymphocytes. The other type of acute leukemia is Acute Myeloid Leukemia, also known as Acute Myelogenous or Myelocytic Leukemia starts in the myeloid cells, which develop into white blood cells (other than lymphocytes), red blood cells, or platelets.

B and T White Blood Cells

There are two important types of white blood cells, B cells and T cells also described as  B Lymphocytes and T Lymphocytes. These cells help the body fight infection. The B Lymphocytes make antibodies to fight infection. These memory cells remember what to do when the foreign invader shows up, and they go on the attack to eliminate the foreign invaders before they get out of hand.

types of white blood cells

T Lymphocytes remember and help B cells fight infection by making antibodies. T cells learn when they are naive which foreign agents to fight off. T cells also target very specific foreign invaders. The acquired T cells with “invader fighting memories” are only called upon when there is an attack by a particular invader. The T cells recognize the invader by unique proteins on their surface. When an invader (cell) moves in with an antigen (toxin or foreign substance that induces an immune response) that matches the protein on the T cell, it begins the cytokine release (soldiers) to attack and destroy the foreign cell invaders (https://www.news-medical.net/health/What-are-T-Cells.aspx).


Immunotherapy vs Chemotherapy

There have been many advances in cancer treatment. Immunotherapy has proven to be much less toxic and very effective for treating many types of cancer. Leukemia is no exception. CAR T-cell therapy is a novel way of treating several cancers, including Leukemia. The process for  T-cell therapy involves the removal of a patient’s T cells via aphaeresis (separating blood plasma from white cells), whose proteins are then modified and returned to the blood. These modified T cells are called CAR T-cells, and they now recognize specific surface antigens of cancerous cells they need to attack (https://www.lls.org/treatment/types-treatment/immunotherapy/chimeric-antigen-receptor-car-t-cell-therapy).

One promising treatment option for ALL is a new immunotherapy treatment called Kymriah. KYMRIAH is not a pill, chemotherapy, or transplant. KYMRIAH is a type of cutting edge immunotherapy that uses the power of your own immune system to treat your cancer. A natural defender, the T cell is a part of your immune system. T cells detect and destroy infected or cancerous cells by looking for certain antigens. Antigens are markers on cells that help your immune system identify normal cells from infected or cancerous cells; however, your cancerous B cells look like normal B cells, so T cells don’t always recognize them.

After KYMRIAH, your T cells will be able to recognize an antigen on your B cells called CD19. By reprogramming your T cells into CAR-T cells, KYMRIAH enhances their ability to detect and destroy your B cells, including those with cancer in them. Because KYMRIAH uses your own T cells, you may hear it referred to as an “individualized” therapy made just for you. Kymriah has been approved for patients up to 25 years of age for treating ALL that is refractory or in second or later relapse, meaning it is not responding to traditional treatment or the cancer has returned.

Here to Serve

While much progress is being made in the fight against Childhood Leukemia and survival rates have increased, many more new options on the horizon. Clinical Trials are an invaluable way to keep the process moving forward. Here to Serve can help guide you if a clinical trial is your best option, including providing resources to help you travel and relocate for a trial.

No doubt about it, navigating the complex journey through medical treatments, insurance, and day-to-day routines is daunting. Even daily activities, which were once routine, are challenging, such as cleaning, laundry, and meal preparation. Coupled with the tremendous expense, it is no wonder the stress level among families going through this challenge is enormous. Here to Serve helps connect you to a community of caring people and resources to help. If you have a child diagnosed with Leukemia or other childhood cancer, please reach out so we can help. Or if you know of someone going through this difficult journey, please tell them about Here to Serve. If you wish to donate financial resources, Here to Serve will make sure they get to families most in need.

By Amanda Enciso

Father’s Day 2021-Celebrating Dads with Cancer Kids

 When you become a father, nobody hands you a playbook with all the answers, least of which when your child is diagnosed with cancer. You can read all the parenting books in the world, and it will not truly prepare you for the role of fatherhood or a critically ill child. The first moment you see your child, it becomes a mixture of fear and excitement. You want the best for your child; you want to be the best dad for your child. There will be plenty of moments where you will get everything wrong, but each day most dads will try their best to do the right thing when being a parent. Celebrating dads with cancer kids on Father’s Day can be difficult. 

IHDadOn Sunday, June 20th, we celebrate Father’s Day in the United States. A day that was first recognized as a federal holiday by President Nixon in 1972. In these nearly 50 years, celebrating has come in the form of handmade gifts and store-bought neckties. Backyard BBQs with family, or an afternoon at a big-league baseball game, soaking in the warm weather. However you honor your father this year, please take a moment to give recognition to a special kind of father, those men who are cancer dads.

Men Stepping Up in a Time of Need

Hand HoldingAccording to the American Childhood Cancer Organization, each year in the United States, there are an estimated 15,780 children between the ages of birth and 19 years diagnosed with cancer. So each year, thousands of men, who are fathers or father figures to a young child, receive devasting news that is any parent’s worst fear; their child has cancer.

There is no doubt that a mother plays an important and critical role in raising and nurturing her child. When that child has cancer, a mother’s protective instincts will become even more evident. But a father’s care is just as essential, and cancer dads need to be honored for all they do.

Changes in a Father’s Role

Dad and DaughterAs our society has evolved, the current role of the father has transformed. Fathers now have a more significant impact on their children’s development. Mothers and fathers are partners, each taking on different or shifting responsibilities. Fathers can be caring and loving, and when faced with helping their child through cancer treatment, these men are heroic.

In many cases of childhood cancer, some dads must assume the hidden responsibilities of the cancer fight, not always by choice but by necessity. Parents become caregivers after the diagnosis. Endless doctor visits and chemo treatments, prolonged hospital stays are often overseen by cancer moms. Over time a child’s medical costs will skyrocket. And if one parent must take an extended leave to be with their child, the other parent, generally the father, must take on the burden of working to help pay for these costs.

Dad and DaughterWhether a dad works in an office or drives a truck across the country, their child is heading into treatment, and they want desperately to be there physically, but it’s not always possible celebrating dads with cancer kids in person. It is frustrating to stand back and focus on work while their child undergoes the pain and suffering of treatment. And after a long day on the job, cancer dads come back to their child to offer the gift of love. That can come in the form of a hug, reading a story, administering medication, offering words of encouragement as their son or daughter suffer through chemo side effects. The horror of childhood cancer will bring out the best in a father who is doing everything he can to help his child.

Here to lessen a father’s load

Dad TossFeelings of helplessness can sweep over a father in times of darkness. Yet, he is trying to be stoic and strong in moments of uncertainty. It is not easy for many men to ask for help. They want to be the provider, but they are only human, and just like the care team working around the clock to save the child, there are others in the community ready to serve. At Here to Serve, our team of family coordinators can help cancer dads lighten their workload at home, so they have additional time with their child. Helping to ease the burden of parents is the way we honor fathers every day of the year.

By Chris Smith