Antioxidants During Radiation Therapy

Last Modified: November 11, 2007

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Question

Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"

I am starting radiation therapy for local recurrence of ovarian cancer following surgery and chemotherapy. I'd like to take supplements or antioxidants to boost my overall health, but the evidence seems to be conflicting on the benefits/risks. What is safe or unwise to take during radiation therapy?

Answer

Karen Wagner MS, RD, LDN, Clinical dietitian specialist for the Abramson Cancer Center, responds:

Thank you for your question. Unfortunately, the bottom line is that the evidence is unclear about what is safe or unwise to take during radiation therapy. Many practitioners empirically reason that because radiation generates oxidative radicals to attack tumors, taking antioxidants may interfere with this mechanism, and therefore should not be taken. However, clinical trials have been inconclusive regarding risks or benefits from taking antioxidants or supplements during treatment. For now, a general multivitamin/mineral is considered to be safe during treatment, but higher dose antioxidants or supplements should be discussed with your doctor. If you have questions in regards to a specific supplement or vitamin, or for specific tips on improving your overall diet, you can ask your doctor for a referral to a registered dietitian for a more complete evaluation.