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Antioxidants reduce radiation injuries

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS. Chronic radiation proctitis (inflammation of the rectum) is a common side effect of radiation therapy in prostate cancer, cervical cancer, and other gynecological malignancies. The main symptoms are rectal bleeding and pain, diarrhea, and fecal urgency.

Researchers at the St. Luke's Medical Center now report that supplementation with vitamin C and vitamin E can markedly reduce the symptoms of radiation proctitis. Their study involved 20 patients half of whom had been treated for prostate cancer and half of whom had been treated for gynecological malignancies. None of the patients had responded to standard drug therapy. All patients were given 400 IU of vitamin E and 500 mg of vitamin C three times daily. Their symptoms were evaluated before the start of supplementation and after four weeks. The researchers noted remarkable improvements. Rectal bleeding had stopped in 36 per cent of all patients having this symptom. Diarrhea diminished in all patients and completely disappeared in 50 per cent of them. Only six patients had reported rectal pain and in two of these it completely disappeared after antioxidant supplementation. The mean symptom score for fecal urgency also decreased very significantly (from 6 to 3). The overall lifestyle of the patients also improved markedly with 35 per cent being able to return to their normal lifestyle.

The researchers conclude that supplementation with vitamins C and E is an effective therapy for chronic radiation proctitis and may be a first line of treatment. They urge that their pilot study be confirmed through a major double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial.
Kennedy, Marc, et al. Successful and sustained treatment of chronic radiation proctitis with antioxidant vitamins E and C. American Journal of Gastroenterology, Vol. 96, April 2001, pp. 1080-84

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