Breast cancer radiotherapy. Wheatgrass extract aids recovery

Wheatgrass Extract as a Topical Skin Agent for Acute Radiation Skin Toxicity in Breast Radiation Therapy

Currie, G., Wheat, J. J. Australian Trad.-Med. Soc, 2006, 12(1): 7-11.

Background: Radiation therapy (RT) is an important part of many different cancer treatments, but damage to the skin around the site of radiation can be significant.  RT using dose fractionation makes use of the fact that normal and cancer tissues have different recovery rates and allows for therapies where the goal is the preservation of breast tissue.  However, all forms of RT are also associated with declines in quality of life measures as well as with increases in pain, nausea and insomnia.  RT is also associated with declines in cognitive and social functions as well as increased financial costs and difficulties.

One of the primary concerns in RT are the common (~10-31%) severe skin reactions experienced by breast cancer patients. These reactions include loss of skin (dry/moist desquamation), scarring, loss of pigmentation, loss of elasticity and poor healing. The risk of severe skin reactions increases with increasing weight, increased breast size, higher doses of RT, the type of radiation given and the size of the treated area.

Despite the serious consequences of skin reactions to RT, there is no set treatment or protocol to protect irradiated normal skin.  Approaches that have shown some promise include treatments with various lotions that may or may not contain medications including steroids, sucralfate, urea and others.

In this article, the researchers propose the use of wheatgrass extract on the skin of breast cancer patients.  Their rationale is based on various studies in animals, wheatgrass’ extremely low level of toxicity, it’s anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties. They also propose that, based on previous studies, wheatgrass could be useful promoting healing, acting as an anti-inflammatory, reducing pain and the risk of infections. In addition, the authors proposed that the use of wheatgrass on irradiated skin during RT could reduce the risks of scarring, swelling, blistering and redness, and could improve skin elasticity.

Based on the author’s conclusions regarding wheatgrass, a small preliminary study has been undertaken.