According to a recent article published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, vitamin E does not appear to reduce the risk of developing a second cancer or a cancer recurrence in patients diagnosed with head and neck cancer.
Approximately 40,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with head and neck cancer every year. Cancers of the head and neck comprise several types of cancer, including the nasal cavity and sinuses, oral cavity, nasopharynx, oropharynx, and other sites located in the head and neck area. Following initial therapy, a large portion of patients experience a cancer recurrence, or the development of a second cancer, referred to as a “second primary” cancer. Researchers are evaluating ways in which to prevent the development of second primaries in patients with head and neck cancer. It has been theorized that antioxidants may reduce this risk, as higher levels of antioxidants in a patient’s blood is associated with a lower risk of developing cancer overall.
Researchers from Quebec, Canada and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington recently conducted a clinical study to evaluate the effects that antioxidant supplementation may have on the development of second primaries in patients with head and neck cancer. This study included 540 patients with early-stage head and neck cancer who were treated with radiation therapy. Patients were treated with a form of vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) or placebo (inactive substitute) upon the initiation of therapy and for 3 years after the end of therapy. Overall, the incidence of second primary cancers, as well as the incidence of cancer recurrences was increased in the group of patients receiving vitamin E compared to those receiving placebo while patients were receiving supplementation. However, the rate of a second primary cancer or a recurrence was reduced in the group of patients who received vitamin E supplementation compared to those who received placebo after the supplementation period was over. Overall, the risk of the development of a second cancer at 8 years was similar between the group of patients treated with vitamin E and those who received placebo.
The researchers concluded that vitamin E does not provide a protective effect against the development of a second primary, nor does it appears to protect against a cancer recurrence in patients with early-stage head and neck cancer who undergo treatment with radiation therapy. Patients should discuss all supplementation, including any vitamin supplementation, with their physician.
Reference: Bairati I, Meyer F, Gélinas M, et al. A Randomized Trial of Antioxidant Vitamins to Prevent Second Primary Cancers in Head and Neck Cancer Patients. Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2005; 97: 481-488.
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