Exploring herbal medicine use during palliative cancer care: The integrative physician as a facilitator of pharmacist–patient–oncologist communication

Noah Samuels*, Eran Ben-Arye

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Oncology patients frequently use herbal and other forms of complementary medicine, often without the knowledge of oncologists, pharmacists, and other healthcare professionals responsible for their care. Oncology healthcare professionals may lack the knowledge needed to guide their patients on the safe and effective use of herbal medicinal products, a number of which have potentially harmful effects, which include direct toxicity and negative herb–drug interactions. The current review addresses the prevalence and expectations of oncology patients from herbal medicine, as well as evidence for the beneficial or harmful effects of this practice (potential and actual), especially when the herbal products are used in conjunction with anticancer agents. Models of integrative oncology care are described, in which open and effective communication among oncologists, pharmacists, and integrative physicians on the use of herbal medicine by their patients occurs. This collaboration provides patients with a nonjudgmental and multidisciplinary approach to integrative medicine, echoing their own health-belief models of care during conventional cancer treatments. The role of the integrative physician is to facilitate this process, working with oncologists and pharmacists in the fostering of patient-centered palliative care, while ensuring a safe and effective treatment environment. Case scenario: W. is a 56 year old female artist who was recently diagnosed with localized hormone receptor-positive breast cancer. Following lumpectomy and sentinel node dissection, she is scheduled to begin adjuvant chemotherapy with a regimen which will include adriamycin, cyclophosphamide, and paclitaxel (AC-T protocol). She is worried about developing peripheral neuropathy and its impact on her ability to paint, and she asks about a number of dietary supplements which she heard could prevent this from happening: omega-3, vitamin E, alpha-lipoic acid, and acetyl-L-carnithine. She is concerned, however, that the supplements may negatively interact with her chemotherapy regimen.

Original languageEnglish
Article number455
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Complementary and integrative medicine
  • Herb-drug interaction
  • Herbal medicine
  • Integrative physician
  • Multidisciplinary approach
  • Oncology
  • Pharmacist
  • Safety


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