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Cancer Treatment Side Effects
Vitamins May Help

For many people, cancer is a word that has changed their lives. Thanks to the advances that have been made in diagnosis and treatment, there are now many options opened to people who have been diagnosed with cancer. However, for those who have had to take treatment - especially radiation treatment - the cure can sometimes be as invasive and debilitating as the disease.


The principle behind radiation is that the cancer cells are hit with a dose of radiation. This can be done either by hitting the cancer with a beam of radiation or by using radioactive molecules that seek out the cancer cells. The radiation source interacts with chemical molecules in the cells and creates compounds called free radicals. Free radicals are formed during this type of cancer treatment, but they are also formed normally in many metabolism pathways in the body. Free radicals are very reactive and immediately attack molecules close to them. This changes the molecules close by, and, if these molecules are part of membranes or other important structures in the cell, the cell structure is destroyed and the cell dies. The cancer cell is essentially attacked from the inside out. Unfortunately, the radiation source can`t tell the difference between a cancer cell and normal cells. Free radicals are also formed in the normal cells close to the cancer site that are hit by the radiation. So how to protect the healthy cells?

Vitamins A, C and E are known to have very strong antioxidant powers - they are able to destroy free radicals. By increasing the amounts of vitamin A, C and E in the cell it is believed that normal cells will better survive radiation treatment. A team led by Dr. Rosalyn Blumenthal used mice to show that if the mice were given antioxidant vitamins they could survive higher does of radiation treatment. The mice that were given a type of human colon cancer were treated with a combination of radio-immunotheraphy (radiation treatment plus bone marrow transplantation). Body weight loss following treatment was reduced in mice receiving the vitamins compared to those mice not receiving the vitamins. White blood cell counts (WBC) were increased in the vitamin supplemented animals, and their overall survival rate was better. The growth of the tumours was not affected by the vitamin treatment.

The idea of adding vitamins to the diet of cancer patients who are undergoing radiation therapy is still controversial and not practised by all doctors. However, the idea of changing the diet in conjunction with traditional disease treatment is one that will receive more attention in the future. Those who are advocating that we take higher levels of vitamins A, C and E each day believe that the radical fighting capacity of these vitamins is important for long term protection against the development of cancer.


Blumenthal RD, Lew W, Reising A, Soyne D, Osorio L, Ying Z, Goldenberg DM. Anti-oxidant vitamins reduce normal tissue toxicity induced by radio-immunotherapy

Internat. J. Cancer 2000,86:276-280

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