Effect of Taking Vitamins During Radiation Studied

By Lois Baker

Release Date: December 1, 2005 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- One of the first studies to determine whether antioxidant vitamin and mineral supplements should be taken during radiation therapy is set to begin in the University at Buffalo's School of Nursing.

The research, funded by a two-year, $236,500 grant from the National Cancer Institute, could settle a controversy between two opposing cancer-therapy camps, said Jean Brown, Ph.D., UB professor of nursing, nutrition and rehabilitation science and principal investigator on the study.

"Radiation therapy is designed to destroy tumor cells, while antioxidants are supposed to help repair cell damage," said Brown. "So one side is saying 'If we're trying to kill cells, we don't want repair.' The other side is saying 'Antioxidants might help prevent damage to normal cells and reduce radiation's side effects.'

"For example, radiation therapy for lung cancer affects the esophagus and makes swallowing difficult. It's possible antioxidants might either ameliorate the soreness or help patients recover more quickly.

"We just don't know," Brown said. "There is considerable in vitro evidence that antioxidants are beneficial during cancer treatment, but studies testing the effects in cancer patients are very limited."

Finding the answer is important, Brown said, because many people take multivitamins. A study at Houston's M.D. Anderson Cancer Center found that 77 percent of patients were taking supplements, she noted.

Brown's study will involve 60 prostate-cancer patients who are receiving radiation therapy. Prostate-cancer patients were chosen because the PSA test provides a definitive measure of the extent of tumor response to therapy.

Patients will be assigned randomly to one of three groups. One group will receive a placebo, another will receive the equivalent of a standard one-a-day vitamin-mineral supplement and the third will receive an antioxidant-enhanced supplement. Patients, physicians and researchers will not know which treatment each patient is receiving.

Patients will be monitored weekly throughout their therapy and for three months after treatment is completed. Their PSA values then will be monitored every three months until the end of the funding period. In addition, researchers will collect data on side effects, oxidative damage, immune function, nutritional status and quality of life.

"The study will provide pilot and feasibility evidence for a larger-scale clinical trial," said Brown. "In the meantime, it will help health-care providers and cancer patients make more informed decisions on the use of multivitamins and antioxidants during radiation."

In addition to Brown, who is a fellow in the American Academy of Nursing, the study team is composed of Richard Brown, Ph.D., and Kate Rittenhouse-Olson, Ph.D., from UB's Department of Biotechnical and Clinical Laboratory Sciences in the School of Medicine and Biological Sciences; and Peter Horvath, Ph.D., of the Nutrition Program and Gregory Wilding, Ph.D., of the Department of Biostatistical Sciences, both in the School of Public Health and Health Professions.

Thomas O'Connor, M.D., UB clinical associate professor of radiation oncology, and Marylin Dodd, Ph.D., from the University of California, San Francisco, are serving as study consultants.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, the largest and most comprehensive campus in the State University of New York