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Warning against treating breast cancer skin lesions with complementary therapies

By Jemma Crew, PA Health and Science Correspondent

Complementary therapies can delay healing and interfere with cancer treatment if used by patients with breast cancer that has spread to the skin, a leading surgeon has warned.

Herbal remedies can stop the blood from clotting as well as it should and worsen scarring, according to Professor Maria Joao Cardoso, head breast surgeon at the Champalimaud Cancer Centre in Portugal.

Garlic, ginger, turmeric and ginseng are all natural ingredients that adversely affect clotting, she said.

While there is a "long list" of complementary products that patients can try, there is no evidence they treat skin lesions effectively, she added.

They could end up doing "more harm than good", she told the Advanced Breast Cancer conference in Lisbon.

She said: "Many patients do not check and do not tell their doctors that they are using complementary therapies.

"There are many of these therapies, especially herbal products and topical creams, that can have a negative impact in cancer treatment.

"Many compounds are complex and some ingredients can delay healing and interfere with the efficacy of ongoing systemic treatments.

"Laboratory studies have shown that certain products can reduce the blood clotting process required for a wound to heal.

"If a patient has a bleeding wound, these compounds can have a strong, adverse impact on scarring and how well wound dressings work."

In as many as a fifth of cases, breast cancer spreads to the skin.

The resulting lesions are difficult to treat and can cause physical discomfort and distress.

Prescribed topical treatments, which have become more popular, are only successful in healing or controlling the wound in 50% of cases, the professor said.

Activities such as yoga, acupuncture and Reiki may help patients manage their stress, she added.

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