According to a recent article published in The Journal of Clinical Oncology, calendula (Calendula Officinalis) appears more effective than trolamine (Biafine®) at reducing or preventing the incidence of dermatitis caused by radiation in the treatment of breast cancer.

Radiation therapy is a common component in the treatment of breast cancer. Unfortunately, radiation therapy may cause side effects, often to the site that it is delivered. Side effects to the skin within the area to which the radiation is delivered are among the most common side effects caused by radiation therapy. Dermatitis is an inflammation of the skin, which may cause redness, pain, itching and even blisters or cracked skin. If dermatitis becomes severe enough, optimal dosing and scheduling of radiation is interrupted to allow the skin to heal. Trolamine is a topical agent that is often used to prevent or reduce dermatitis caused by radiation therapy. However, approximately half of the patients using trolamine may still experience dermatitis caused by radiation therapy and researchers are evaluating different agents in order to reduce side effects to the skin, allowing for the optimal delivery of radiation therapy.

Researchers from France recently conducted a clinical trial to compare topical calendula, often known as the marigold, to trolamine in the reduction or prevention of radiation-induced dermatitis in breast cancer patients. This trial included 254 patients who were to receive radiation following surgery in the treatment of breast cancer. Approximately half of the patients were treated with calendula, and the other half with trolamine to the site of radiation following each session. The rate of severe dermatitis (grade II or higher) was only 41% in the patients treated with calendular, compared with 63% of those treated with trolamine. In addition, fewer patients who were treated with calendula had a disruption in their radiation schedule, compared to those treated with trolamine. Patients treated with calendula also experienced less pain caused by radiation than those treated with trolamine.

The researchers concluded that calendula appears to be more effective than trolamine at reducing or preventing severe radiation-induced dermatitis in patients with breast cancer. By preventing acute dermatitis, more patients were able to maintain optimal radiation schedules, proving an improved chance for superior long-term outcomes. Patients who are to undergo radiation therapy may wish to speak with their physician about the risks and benefits of participating in a clinical trial evaluating calendula or other novel approaches to reducing dermatitis.

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Reference: Pommier P, Gomez F, Sunyach M, et al. Phase III randomized trial of Calendula Officinalis compared with trolamine for the prevention of acute dermatitis during irradiation for breast cancer. The Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2004; 22: 1447-1453.

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