Antioxidants and Radiation Treatment

Radiation therapy is certainly hard on the body. For those who are in the process of going through it, there have been questions regarding whether one can continue taking antioxidants and supplements. The concern is whether it will reduce the effectiveness of the therapy.

While radiation therapy kills cancer cells, it also damages neighboring, non-cancerous cells. For most people who experience radiation injury to the intestine, the condition usually clears up within a few weeks of treatment. But in 10% to 20% of the patients, it persists. The people in this study had all experienced these symptoms for six months or more.

Doctors say that while radiation proctitis can be a very disabling condition for many people, that taking antioxidant treatments [with vitamins E and C] makes a lot of sense. Evidence now suggests it may possibly work as a first-line treatment for patients who experience diarrhea, urgency, or fecal incontinence.

What do antioxidants do? They protect cells from DNA damage that can be caused by unstable forms of oxygen called free radicals. High radiation doses aimed at a prostate, cervical or endometrial cancer cause high levels of free radicals that create enough DNA damage to destroy the malignant cells. But, stray radiation can also damage the nearby rectum.

Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant, and vitamin C increases the effects of vitamin E.

Research by Cancer Treatment Centers of America have found that antioxidants provide nutritional benefits to cancer patients undergoing radiation treatment without interfering with the treatment itself.

The study, entitled “Effect of Concomitant Naturopathic Therapies on Clinical Tumor Response to External Beam Radiation Therapy for Prostate Cancer,” was presented at the non-profit Society of Integrative Oncology’s Third International Conference in Boston.

Most doctors said they felt that radiation therapy, chemotherapy and surgery are the best treatment options for cancer patients, but the side effects of the treatments can be physically and emotionally damaging. In the past, doctors were concerned about antioxidant use with radiation treatment in that it might interfere with the cancer cell oxidation levels that assist chemotherapy and radiation in killing tumors. To address this, the Cancer Treatment Centers of America researchers analyzed the prostate specific antigen (PSA) levels of prostate cancer patients after radiation therapy, and found no difference between the control group and the group using antioxidants such as green tea extract, melatonin, high-potency multivitamins, vitamin C and vitamin E.

Doctors say that the study provides evidence that antioxidants as a complementary therapy in cancer treatment does not interfere with external beam radiation therapy and that antioxidants are one of many complementary and alternative medicine therapies that are crucial in today’s fight against cancer.

More than 80 percent of the cancer patients interviewed for the report said they had used some sort of complementary and alternative medicine treatment, many without any sort of medical supervision.

In the end, it was proven that taking antioxidants helped patients and was beneficial to their overall sense of well-being in addition to helping them assimilate to the radiation.

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