Vitamin E Eases Painful Side Effect to Radiation Therapy

BACKGROUND: Most patients who undergo radiation therapy for head and neck cancers suffer from painful mucositis in the mouth. Mucositis may lead to interruptions in radiation therapy and reduced tumor control.

RESEARCH: Physicians used radiation therapy to treat 54 patients diagnosed with head and/or neck cancers. The patients underwent daily (Monday through Friday) radiation therapy for five to seven weeks. Immediately before each therapy session, half of the patients dissolved a vitamin E capsule (400 mg) in their saliva, rinsed their mouth with it for five minutes, and then swallowed it. They repeated the procedure with a second capsule at home eight to 12 hours later. The other half of the patients followed the same procedures but with placebo capsules.

RESULTS: Patients using vitamin E supplements as described benefited from a significant 36 percent reduced frequency of symptomatic mucositis. In addition, patients using vitamin E reported having less pain and difficulty eating.

IMPLICATIONS: This preliminary clinical study found that vitamin E supplements, when used as described, may reduce pain and discomfort associated with radiation therapy of head and neck cancers.

Ferreira PR, Fleck JF, Diehl A, et al. Protective effect of alpha-tocopherol in head and neck cancer radiation-induced mucositis: a double-blind randomized trial. Head & Neck, 2004;26;313-321.

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