Effect of vitamins C and E on antioxidant status of breast-cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy


Dr N. Banu, Professor, Department of Biochemistry, Faculty of Life Sciences, A M University, Aligarh, UP, India. Tel.: +91 9897000193; fax: +91-571-2700262; e-mails: naheedbanu7@yahoo.com, nbanuamu@gmail.com


What is known and Objective:  Reactive oxygen/nitrogen species generated by antineoplastic agents are prime suspects for the toxic side-effects of acute or chronic chemotherapy. The present study was undertaken to test whether vitamins C and E (VCE) supplementation protect against some of the harmful effects of commonly used anticancer drugs in breast-cancer patients.

Methods:  In a randomized 5-month study, the activity of various antioxidant enzymes (superoxide dismutase, catalase, glutathione-S-transferase and glutathione reductase) and the levels of malondialdehyde and reduced glutathione were measured in forty untreated breast-cancer patients (stage II) and compared with those of healthy controls. The degree of DNA damage was also assessed in the peripheral lymphocytes of the patients by alkaline single cell gel electrophoresis. The untreated patients were then randomly assigned to either treatment with chemotherapy alone (5-fluorouracil 500 mg/m2 i.v. day 1, doxorubicin 50 mg/m2 i.v. day 1 and cyclophosphamide 500 mg/m2 i.v. day 1, every 3 weeks for six cycles) or to the same chemotherapy regimen supplemented with VCE (vitamin C 500 mg tablet and vitamin E 400 mg gelatin capsule). On completion of the treatments, both the groups were studied again for the levels of the markers measured prior to treatment.

Results and Discussion:  The untreated group showed significantly lower levels of antioxidant enzymes (P < 0·001) and reduced glutathione (P < 0·001), and more extensive lipid peroxidation (P < 0·001) and DNA damage than healthy controls. Similar but less pronounced patterns were observed in the patients receiving chemotherapy alone. The group of patients receiving VCE supplementation had all the marker levels moving towards normal values. Activities of superoxide dismutase, catalase, glutathione-S-transferase and glutathione reductase, and the levels of reduced glutathione were significantly increased (P < 0·01) while, the levels of malondialdehyde and DNA damage were significantly (P < 0·01) reduced in the VCE supplemented group relative to those of patients receiving chemotherapy alone as well as relative to the pretreatment levels.

What is new and Conclusion:  Co-administration of VCE restored antioxidant status, lowered by the presence of breast-cancer and chemotherapy. DNA damage was also reduced by VCE. The results suggest that VCE should be useful in protecting against chemotherapy-related side-effects and a randomized control trial to evaluate the effectiveness of VCE in breast-cancer patients using clinical outcomes would be appropriate.