Monday, March 10, 2008

Natural Support for Prostate Cancer Radiation Treatment

Prostate cancer radiation treatment has been around since the early twentieth century, and newer, stronger, and more highly focused radiation makes the treatment both more effective and more bearable than ever before. Simple, natural, and common sense supportive therapies, however, can reduce the risk of side effects and speed recovery.

The most important objective of natural therapy for men undergoing radiation of the prostate is preventing constipation. Staying regular makes it easier to keep clean, and keeping clean prevents inflammation and bleeding around the anus.

Just don't try to stay regular by eating bran, especially by eating bran in the morning. The gut digests bran slowly, so if you eat bran cereal for breakfast, it adds to production of gas and bloat during the day. You'll probably have better results from a small serving of prunes. Prunes work in a way similar to milk of magnesia. They keep fluid in the gut and make the stool more slippery.

Cranberry juice cuts down on risk of urinary tract infections. Some complex carbohydrates that pass into the urine keep bacteria from attaching themselves to the wall of the bladder and the urinary canal. If bacteria cannot "root," they are flushed away with urination. Blueberry juice has a similar effect.

Radiation causes skin injury. Over 70 clinical trials have studied the use of aloe vera gels in preventing desquamation during radiation therapy, and, frankly, the trend of the results is that aloe can be helpful, but phospholipid creams without salt or mineral additives (that is, "anionic" phospholipid creams).

Men who receive prostate cancer radiation treatments often experience some degree of erectile dysfunction (ED), due to damage to the nerves or the microscopic blood vessels serving the nerves of the penis. While yohimbe really is a natural analog of Viagra or Revatio (sildenafil), Levitra or Vivanza (vardenafil), and Cialis (tadalafil), it's hard to get the "real thing" at health food stores. Prescription ED drugs can actually be cheaper and more effective.

But vitamin A may be especially helpful in preventing diarrhea, urgency of defecation, rectal pain, rectal bleeding, and fecal incontinence several months after radiation therapy. A small clinical trial found several years ago that a low dose of vitamin A (8000 IU) a day, reduced all these symptoms, especially rectal bleeding. Vitamin A is inexpensive and there have never been reports of complications at this dosage, but you should let your doctors know you are planning to take it so they can help you avoid any drug interactions. Beneficial effects of vitamin A may take 2-3 months to be observed.

Can natural therapies actually help radiation kill more prostate cancer cells?

There have been many test-tube level investigations of various plant chemicals that seem to interfere with cancer's survival signal transduction pathway that allows them build up their own antioxidants so they can survive radiation treatment. Various commentators offer the turmeric-derived chemical curcumin, green tea compounds, or a special form of selenium known as Se-methylselenocysteine as potential "radiation boosters" for prostate cancer therapy.

And these natural health enthusiasts do have a theoretic framework for recommending the supplements:

  • In the lab, curcumin helps activate the "cancer-deactivator" gene p53, which can be damaged by radiation. Curcumin, theoretically, could undo radiation damage to healthy tissues and prevent radiation-therapy induced cancers.
  • Green tea compounds have caused remission of tumors in lab mice, and the caffeine in green tea (or coffee, or, more bizarrely, a coffee enema) might make medications work better.
  • Selenium methylselenocysteine, the form of selenium found in broccoli, broccosprouts, and garlic, stops the production of growth factors that allow cancer cells to grow their own blood supply, at least in laboratory studies.
And who knows, these supplements might actually help people. But that's the problem, nobody yet knows for sure.

There's no evidence that curcumin, green tea, and Se-methyselenocysteine supplements will hurt you, but there's no evidence they will help you, either. Right now, their use is based on very good theory but no rigorous clinical research. They "should" help, but there's no proof they do. And they most certainly do not substitute for medically directed therapy.

Despite the overreaching of some nutritional supplements sellers, natural therapy can do a great deal to assist in recovery from radiation therapy for prostate cancer. Preventing constipation, preventing bladder infections, and speeding healing of anal tissue all greatly reduce the pain and discomfort of the procedure.

You may also be interested in Diet for Fighting Bladder Cancer and Constipation and Cancer.

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