Finding Out Whether Alternative Therapies Affect Breast Cancer Treatments
Sara Rockwell, Ph.D.,Professor of Therapeutic Radiology and Pharmacology
Approximately one in eight women in the United States will develop breast cancer. Due to the prohibition of hormone therapy and the use of estrogen-blocking drugs for women with breast cancer, women often report severe menopausal symptoms, particularly hot flashes. Dr. Rockwell was among the first in the country to study the effects of black cohosh, a commonly used herbal treatment for hot flashes, showing its affect on breast cancer therapies.
Highlighted Study Findings
Women with breast cancer are increasingly turning to alternative medicines, either to supplement their traditional cancer treatment or to treat conditions for which traditional medicines are not recommended (such as estrogen to treat menopausal symptoms). One herb often used to treat menopausal symptoms by women who have stopped taking hormone replacement therapy is black cohosh. This herb is purchased over-the-counter and has been advertised as safe and effective for the treatment of menopausal symptoms. Yet, such over-the-counter agents do not require the approval of the Food and Drug Administration and previously had not been the target of scientific inquiry. Dr. Sara Rockwell’s research was designed to investigate the effect of black cohosh on breast cells using a mouse model. Dr. Rockwell’s study indicated that when black cohosh is used concurrently with traditional types of chemotherapy, it can either increase or decrease the effectiveness of the treatment depending on the specific type of chemotherapy used. Furthermore, her study showed that it was also possible for black cohosh to increase the levels of toxicity associated with traditional chemotherapy drugs. With the use of complementary and alternative medicines on the rise, it is critically important to determine whether these agents are safe. Armed with the facts, patients can make informed decisions about their treatment.