For those of us working in oncology – from either conventional or naturopathic perspectives – our goals are the same: improve outcomes and improve quality of life.
Antioxidants need to be clearly understood within the context of cancer treatment, because when used correctly they can add great benefit to each of these goals.
Antioxidants IMPROVE cancer care when prescribed appropriately. How do we know?
The evidence from research and clinical experience already supports use of many “antioxidant” medications and nutritional supplements in collaboration with chemotherapy and radiation.
How do antioxidants help beat cancer?
Why do I put “antioxidant” in quotes? Because both synthetic and natural compounds labelled “antioxidants” are MUCH more than just antioxidants. Many have specific activities that may:
– Inhibit cancer growth
– Trigger cancer cell death
– Support the immune system to prevent infection and fight the cancer
– Improve energy and quality of life
– Reducing side effects of chemotherapy or radiation
– Reduce inflammation
To broadly label these compounds just “antioxidants” without recognizing their other medicinal characteristics ignores these benefits.
Even some chemotherapy drugs are antioxidants, but they still kill cancer cells. If this can be true, then we know that any other natural or synthetic antioxidant might have beneficial properties that can be of benefit to cancer patients.
What we do know about using antioxidants with cancer treatment?
First let’s explore what we have learned over the last 20 years or so regarding antioxidants with cancer treatment.
There is now a convincing body of evidence that antioxidants actually help people feel better and help them to survive.
Quite a bit of quality research has investigated specific “antioxidants” with specific chemotherapy treatments. One review looking at a variety of different antioxidants found no evidence of lowered survival or tumour response, and showed reduced side effects for patients using supplemental antioxidants.
In fact, a statistically significant advantage in survival and response to chemotherapy was noted in 17 of the 19 randomized controlled trials. (Keith Block, 2007)
Further evidence of benefit has been established through the practices of Naturopathic Doctors and Integrative Medical Doctors specializing in oncology. We ourselves have seen numerous cases where treatment is both unusually well-tolerated and the response to therapy is encouraging.
Many medications combined with chemo are “antioxidants”
Something very interesting is just how often “antioxidants” are already combined with chemotherapy and radiation.
For example, Statin medications (for high cholesterol) and some blood pressure medications are well-known “antioxidants”, but patients are never instructed to discontinue these when proceeding with chemotherapy or radiation. What is the impact of including these “antioxidants” with chemotherapy or radiation? None.
Even more interesting are the number of medications commonly prescribed with radiation or chemotherapy that are also “antioxidants”. These include:
– Amifostine (helps prevent drops in white blood cells during chemotherapy or radiation)
– Mesna (reduces risk of bleeding as a side effect of some chemotherapy)
– Dexrazoxane (protects the heart from effects of chemotherapy)
Each of these have been shown to have powerful antioxidant effects, but are still used in conjunction with chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy to help treat serious side effects. Do they interfere with treatment? Nope.
Even more interesting, some chemotherapy drugs themselves have antioxidant effects, but are still helpful in killing cancer despite this. Two of these include:
The above information sheds some serious question into the concerns of combining chemotherapy with antioxidants.
But lets not be cavalier. The use of specific antioxidants must be carefully considered based on the type of cancer, the type of chemotherapy, and the specific “antioxidant.” There are certainly situations in which certain antioxidants are best avoided.
Many doctors I suspect have not had this information shared with them, and I’m sure they also do not have time to dig and research into every area of cancer care outside of their area of expertise.
Integrative cancer care however is our specialty, and we ARE able to research and explore how we can cooperatively improve patient care, including the proper use of antioxidants.
If you have questions or would like more information, we would be pleased to go into greater detail with you in person.