Efficacy and Interaction of Antioxidant Supplements as Adjuvant Therapy in Cancer Treatment: A Systematic Review

Integr Cancer Ther. 2016 Mar;15(1):17-39. doi: 10.1177/1534735415610427. Epub 2015 Oct 26.


Oxidative stress is a key component in carcinogenesis. Although radiation produces reactive oxygen species, some anticancer agents such as alkylating agents, platinum and antitumor antibiotics exert cytotoxicity by generating free radicals. Nonenzymatic exogenous antioxidants such as vitamins, minerals, and polyphenols can quench ROS activity. However, whether antioxidants alter antitumor effects during radiotherapy and some types of chemotherapy remains unclear. In the present study, we reviewed antioxidants as an adjuvant therapy for cancer patients during chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Electronic literature searches were performed to select all randomized controlled clinical trials (RCTs) in which antioxidants were administered to cancer patients along with chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Articles or abstracts written in English were included. In total, 399 reports received primary screening. Duplicated articles and those meeting the exclusion criteria (not RCT, not human, and no oral administration) were excluded. Finally, 49 reports matching the inclusion criteria were included. It was difficult to determine whether antioxidants affect treatment outcomes or whether antioxidants ameliorate adverse effects induced by chemotherapy and radiotherapy. It is desirable to use an evidence-based method to select supplements best suited to cancer patients. Although there are many opinions about risks or benefits of antioxidant supplementation, we could mostly conclude that the harm caused by antioxidant supplementation remains unclear for patients during cancer therapy, except for smokers undergoing radiotherapy.

Keywords: antioxidant; cancer; chemotherapy; radiotherapy; supplement; vitamin.

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Antioxidants / therapeutic use*
  • Combined Modality Therapy / methods
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Free Radicals / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects
  • Polyphenols / therapeutic use
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Vitamins / therapeutic use


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Antioxidants
  • Free Radicals
  • Polyphenols
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Vitamins