Men’s Health Supplements Have No Value for Patients with Prostate Cancer

November 2015, Vol 6, No 10

San Antonio, TX—Supplements that are often sold in supermarkets and health food stores to promote “men’s health” or “prostate health” do not provide any clinical benefits to men with prostate cancer, according to the results of a retrospective study presented at the 2015 American Society for Radiation Oncology annual meeting. Men’s health supplements did not significantly prevent distant metastasis, prostate cancer–related death, or treatment-related adverse events in this first-of-its-kind study.

“Despite the widespread use of men’s health supplements, no prior study had examined their effect on men with prostate cancer—the most commonly diagnosed cancer in men,” stated lead investigator Nicholas G. Zaorsky, MD, Radiation Oncology Resident, Fox Chase Cancer Center, Philadelphia.

“The take-home message is that oncologists should be mindful that a large percentage of patients with cancer take supplements sold with ‘clinically proven’ anticancer or healing effects, but these supplements have absolutely no benefit, and they can be expensive. Oncologists should routinely ask patients about supplement use and discourage patients from using any drug without a diagnosis,” Dr Zaorsky continued.

Another important implication is that incorrect promotional messages do not help patients and may harm them. “We hope our findings will inspire government agencies to enact laws that will regulate the sale of supplements,” Dr Zaorsky stated. “These actions may help to prevent the inappropriate use of supplements that do not provide any benefit and may actually harm patients.”

Although the supplements were not associated with toxicities in this study, a recent study showed that approximately 23,000 emergency department visits annually are a result of the side effects of supplements (Geller AI, et al. N Engl J Med. 2015;373:1531-1540).

Dr Zaorsky said that the supplements used in this trial cost anywhere from $10 monthly to >$100 monthly. “Over a 5-year period, that could be thousands of dollars for a drug/supplement that doesn’t do anything,” he said.

Study Findings

The retrospective analysis included 2207 patients at Fox Chase who received intensity-modulated radiation therapy for prostate cancer between 2001 and 2012. Overall, 217 patients used supplements specifically marketed for men’s health, for prostate health, or as a men’s formula; 91% of the supplements contained saw palmetto, an ingredient with touted benefits for the prostate. None of the supplements were approved by the FDA.

Supplements that were not marketed specifically for men were excluded, but approximately 50% of the patients took some type of supplements, based on patient self-reports and medical records from oncologists, urologists, and primary care physicians.

During a 5-year period, no significant differences were seen in the rates of biochemical failure, freedom from distant metastasis, or cancer-specific survival between patients who used and those who did not use men’s health supplements.

Biochemical failure was 9% in patients who did not use men’s health supplements versus 8% in men who used health supplements; distant metastases rates were 3% and 2%, respectively. Cancer-specific deaths were reported in 1% of patients in each group.

In an unadjusted analysis, overall survival was improved in men who used men’s health supplements, but this difference dissipated after accounting for patient lifestyle factors, Dr Zaorsky said.

Treatment-related adverse events, including bowel and bladder toxicities and late toxicity, were similar in both groups.

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