Men’s Health Supplements Do Not Improve Prostate Cancer Outcomes

October 18, 2015

PHILADELPHIA (October 18, 2015) — Men’s health supplements, which are often marketed as having “clinically proven” anti-cancer or healing effects, do not actually provide significant clinical benefits to prostate cancer patients, according to new research by Fox Chase Cancer Center – Temple Health investigators. The first-of-its-kind study reveals that these supplements do not significantly help to prevent distant metastasis, cancer-related death, or adverse effects in prostate cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy. The findings were presented October 18 at the 57th Annual Meeting of the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) in San Antonio, Texas.

“Men with prostate cancer commonly use these pills because of the high incidence of prostate cancer, the stress associated with the diagnosis, the desire to benefit from all potential treatments, and the limited regulation on marketing and sale of the supplements,” said lead study investigator Nicholas G. Zaorsky, MD, resident physician in radiation oncology at Fox Chase. “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.”

In the new study, Zaorsky and his collaborators reviewed their prospectively collected institutional database of 2,301 men who underwent intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) for localized prostate cancer between 2001 and 2012. At the time of IMRT or during follow-up about four years later, 10% of these individuals took men’s health supplements, which were defined as any medication marketed with any of the following terms: “men’s health,” “men’s formula,” or “prostate health,” excluding general multivitamins, minerals, or prescription medications. These supplements were never tested in any studies, despite what was written on their labels, and were marketed as being “clinically proven,” even though the anticipated effect was never provided.

The most common ingredient, present in 91% of the supplements, was saw palmetto — a palm-like plant with berries that are used to make medicine. This plant is best known for its use in decreasing symptoms of an enlarged prostate, but it is also used to treat other prostate-related conditions. But according to MedlinePlus, a National Institutes of Health website produced by the National Library of Medicine, there has been conflicting evidence about the plant’s benefits for treating the symptoms of an enlarged prostate and insufficient evidence to rate its effectiveness for prostate cancer.

Fox Chase researchers showed for the first time that men’s health supplements, which primarily contain saw palmetto, did not improve clinical outcomes associated with prostate cancer. At follow-up of five years after radiation therapy, men taking these supplements did not have a lower risk of distant metastasis, cancer-related death, or adverse effects associated with radiation therapy, compared with men who did not take these supplements.

“Many men believe the supplements will help their cancer, or at worst, do nothing, so what’s the harm?” Zaorsky said. “Although we did not see a change in adverse effects, there have been thousands of cases in the U.S. where supplements have harmed patients, so we urge men to take caution when they walk down grocery store aisles and see bottles of pills labeled ‘men’s health’ or ‘prostate health.’”

Zaorsky also had advice for physicians, pharmaceutical companies, and government agencies. “First, we encourage all physicians to routinely ask patients about supplement use and discourage the use of any drug without a diagnosis. Second, we encourage pharmaceutical companies to stop incorrectly promoting supplements. And third, we hope our findings will inspire government agencies to enact laws that will regulate the sale of supplements,” he said. “These actions may help to prevent the inappropriate use of supplements that do not provide any benefit and may actually harm patients.”


The Hospital of Fox Chase Cancer Center and its affiliates (collectively “Fox Chase Cancer Center”), a member of the Temple University Health System, is one of the leading cancer research and treatment centers in the United States. Founded in 1904 in Philadelphia as one of the nation’s first cancer hospitals, Fox Chase was also among the first institutions to be designated a National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center in 1974. Fox Chase researchers have won the highest awards in their fields, including two Nobel Prizes. Fox Chase physicians are also routinely recognized in national rankings, and the Center’s nursing program has received the Magnet recognition for excellence five consecutive times. Today, Fox Chase conducts a broad array of nationally competitive basic, translational, and clinical research, with special programs in cancer prevention, detection, survivorship and community outreach. It is the policy of Fox Chase Cancer Center that there shall be no exclusion from, or participation in, and no one denied the benefits of, the delivery of quality medical care on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity/expression, disability, age, ancestry, color, national origin, physical ability, level of education, or source of payment.


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