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Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD
Jan. 28, 2008 (Orlando) -- High-potency vitamins, melatonin supplements, and other complementary remedies may help to relieve the debilitating pain and fatigue experienced by most people with advanced pancreatic cancer, a new study suggests.
"Pain and fatigue are a huge issue for this population of patients," says researcher Timothy C. Birdsall, MD, vice president for integrative medicine at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Zion, Ill.
"Many have so much pain that they need sedating doses of narcotics. And they are often too tired to get up and move around; they spend most of the day sitting or even in bed," he tells WebMD.
Vitamins Help Control Pain
The participants were already taking narcotic drugs and anti-inflammatory agents to help control their pain. Birdsall says that "there's really nothing, conventionally, that we can give for fatigue."
Thirty-six of the 50 participants were given complementary remedies, most frequently green tea extract, melatonin, and high-potency multivitamins that had at least 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C and 400 international units of vitamin E.
At the start of the study, 40% of those taking a complementary remedy had pain that was considered manageable. Six months later, 67% had manageable pain. In contrast, 35% of those who didn't take a complementary treatment had manageable pain at the outset; by six months, that figure had dropped to 22%, the study showed.
Complementary Treatments Relieve Fatigue
The researchers asked the participants to rate their fatigue on a 100-point scale, with 0 corresponding to no fatigue and 100 points "being debilitating fatigue of the worst kind," Birdsall says.
At the start of the study, the participants who took vitamins or other complementary remedies rated their fatigue an average of 55 points. Three months later, the figure had dropped to 35 points. It remained there for the length of the six-month study.
In contrast, those who didn't take complementary remedies rated their fatigue an average of 45 points at the outset; six months later, it had jumped to 65 points.
"Complementary alternative medicine may improve fatigue and extend the period of effective pain control of conventional analgesics in pancreatic cancer patients," Birdsall says.
Treatment Can Cause Fatigue
Leonard Gunderson, MD, deputy director for clinical affairs at the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center in Scottsdale, Ariz., tells WebMD that unrelenting pain is typically caused by the cancer itself. The drugs or radiation used to treat the tumor cause fatigue in about 50% of pancreatic cancer patients, he says.
Complementary treatments can be helpful in conjunction with conventional treatment, Gunderson says. But, he adds, "taking them instead of standard treatment makes no sense."
Also, tell your doctor if you are taking a complementary therapy because some remedies can make your cancer treatment less effective, Gunderson says.
SOURCES: Gastrointestinal Cancers Symposium, Orlando, Jan. 25-27, 2008. Timothy C. Birdsall, MD, vice president for integrative medicine, Cancer Treatment Centers of America, Zion, Ill. Leonard Gunderson, MD, deputy director for clinical affairs, Mayo Clinic Cancer Center, Scottsdale, Ariz.
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