A systematic review - Biologically-based complementary medicine use by people living with cancer – is a more clearly defined role for the pharmacist required?

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Biologically-based complementary medicines (BB-CMs) including herbal, vitamin, mineral and nutritional supplements are frequently taken by people living with cancer. Pharmacists play an important and clearly defined role in the provision of standard cancer treatment. Due to the non-prescription status and easy access to BB-CMs, the role of the pharmacist in communicating to people living with cancer about their use is less clearly defined.


To explore the role of the pharmacist in communicating to people living with cancer about their use of BB-CMs.


Eligible studies were identified in PubMed, Medline, EmBase, International Pharmaceutical Abstracts and Google Scholar. Articles published between 2003 and 2016 were included searching for “Complementary OR Herbal medicine OR vitamin OR nutritional supplement”; and “cancer OR oncology patient”; and “pharmacist role OR attitude OR belief OR communication”.


BB-CM use is prevalent among people living with cancer for the management of side effects and are taken under the belief they are safe, natural and holistic. Fifty per cent of cancer patients do not disclose their BB-CM use to their physicians due to a perception that it will be discouraged and/or their physician will not be knowledgeable about BB-CMs. There are known drug-herb/nutrient interactions but interestingly pharmacists are the least consulted health care professional (HCP).


With adequate knowledge about BB-CMs, pharmacists are well positioned as medication specialists to fill the current communication gap between people living with cancer and HCPs. Further research that informs the development of specific BB-CM guidelines for pharmacists in the management of cancer are required.

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