Out with the old, in with the new:
Prior to this study, the #1 product that I have been recommending to patients to help them minimize a common radiation skin reaction (called “radiation dermatitis”) is a natural botanical, Calendula (an extract from marigold flowers). I now believe that there is a better therapy, and this therapy is also completely natural.
Although many patients and practitioners swear by the efficacy of Calendula creams, lotions and oils a recent high quality randomized study found that Calendula cream was no better than a standard petroleum-based moisturizer cream in preventing radiation dermatitis. Taken in context with the fact that previous studies showed a benefit with Calendula, I suspect that if there is a benefit it probably falls somewhere between ‘not effective’ to ‘mildly effective.’
My favorite botanical compound does it again:
Long time followers of IOE know that curcumin (an extract from turmeric) is my favorite anti-cancer phytonutrient. Studies have previously shown that curcumin makes chemotherapy and radiation therapy more effective in killing cancer cells all the while it appears to also protects normal tissues (liver, kidney, mucous membranes, heart, etc.) from radiation and chemotherapy injury. Read all about this amazing compound in one of my previous posts here.
Here is the latest study to add to my curcumin infatuation:
Researchers conducted a small randomized controlled trial of 30 patients undergoing radiation therapy for breast cancer. Half the patients received curcumin tablets (2 gram tablets, taken 3 times per day taken throughout their radiation treatment course) or placebo tablets (taken 3 times per day).
What they found is that the patients taking curcumin have dermatitis reactions that are on average 31% less than those taking placebo.
Even more impressively, the patients taking curcumin have a dramatically lower risk of developing severe skin reactions (called “moist desquamation”) compared with those taking the placebo; 28.6% (curcumin) versus 87.5% (placebo).
Curcumin is a potent anti-inflammatory compound which is likely in part responsible for the reduction in seventy of radiation dermatitis.
This study needs to be replicated with larger numbers of patients to confirm these findings but the results look very promising.
The Curcumin Dosing Is:
Based on the study above:
- Curcumin supplement (2 gram tablets or capsules, three times per day) taken during your entire radiation course and for a couple weeks after completion of treatment.
- Buy a high quality curcumin product that states on the packaging that it is formulated to be better absorbed across the bowel wall (as curcumin is not very well absorbed from the intestines unless the product is formulated specifically to do this.)
Dr. Lawenda’s Bottom Line:
If you want to lessen the intensity and duration of radiation dermatitis, discuss with your radiation oncologist whether they feel that it is safe for you to take curcumin during your treatment.
I currently discuss the results of this study with my patients as I feel that the results are quite compelling.
To get even less of a skin reaction, I recommend that you also apply a moisturization cream, lotion or oil (without fragrances or chemicals you have never heard of before) 2-3 times per day to the radiated skin during your treatment to keep it from getting dry. Although the data is not as compelling as it once was, I remain a fan of Calendula (and Aloe Vera). You can buy products that contain both of these natural compounds in a single cream or lotion formulation.