Cancer patients are almost always given terrible advice about diet by traditional doctors ranging from the statement that it doesn’t matter what cancer patients eat, to avoiding antioxidants and antioxidant-rich foods during treatment. Of course, the research shows clearly that diet is one of the principal causes of cancer, that what you eat while receiving treatment does matter, and antioxidants do not interfere with treatment.
However, a recent study appeared to provide evidence that antioxidants were contraindicated for those patients receiving radiation treatment. In April 2005, Isabelle Bairati, M.D. and her colleagues at the Hotel Dieu de Quebec Research Centre and the Universite Laval published a study concluding that antioxidants increased the recurrence rate of cancer.
The study was double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, and showed that patients receiving 30 mg per day of synthetic beta carotene or 400 IU of Vitamin E had a 40% increase in the recurrence rate of their cancers. The university distributed press releases with the heading “Supplements May Speed Up Development of Cancer” and oncologists who have told patients to avoid antioxidants during treatment felt vindicated.
However, in December 2007, Bairati and her colleagues published a major clarification that modified their previous conclusions. After further evaluating their study, the danger of the synthetic antioxidants was limited only to cigarette smokers who continued to smoke during radiation treatment. The sub-group that was analyzed consisted of patients with head and neck cancers who received radiation therapy. Interestingly, smoking in the period leading up to radiation did not affect recurrence rates, but smoking while receiving the treatment and taking the antioxidants did. It was a large enough increase to skew the statistics for the study group as a whole.
The National Cancer Institute states that 85% of head and neck cancers are related to smoking. It is almost incomprehensible that these people would continue to smoke while trying to recover from cancer, but it is these very unhealthy people who show higher recurrence rates as a result of taking antioxidants. Studies have consistently shown that the general population of cancer patients benefits from taking antioxidants and consuming antioxidant-rich foods while undergoing treatment.
Unfortunately, it is unlikely that oncologists will change their mind on this issue, as little of what is done in the field of oncology is based on the published scientific research.