Written by Luc Geeraert and the CAM-Cancer Consortium.
Updated September 30, 2015

Vitamin E during cancer treatment

Abstract and key points

  • Vitamin E is a generic term encompassing different chemical compounds, each having a different metabolism and biological activity.
  • Vitamin E compounds are fat-soluble antioxidants and some of them might have additional presumed anticancer properties.
  • As an adjunct to conventional anticancer therapy, vitamin E might reduce side effects (i.e. oral mucositis, hand-foot-syndrome and peripheral neurotoxicity).
  • No clinical trials describing the use of vitamin E monotherapy as an anticancer treatment have been published.
  • Vitamin E is considered to have a very low toxicity, and is generally well-tolerated in low doses.

Vitamin E is a generic term encompassing natural (alpha-, beta-, gamma-, and delta-tocopherol, and alpha-, beta-, gamma-, and delta-tocotrienol) and synthetic (all-rac-alpha-tocopherol) forms, and the esters thereof. The role of some forms of vitamin E in cancer prevention and therapy has been proposed.

This summary focuses on vitamin E during cancer, i.e. when used as an anticancer agent or to alleviate the adverse events of cancer treatments. Vitamin E in the prevention of cancer is not covered by this summary.

No clinical trials describing the use of vitamin E monotherapy as an anticancer treatment have been published. The available peer-reviewed clinical literature describes the use of alpha-tocopherol, all-rac-alpha-tocopherol, and tocotrienol as components of multivitamin regimens or mixtures of micronutrients, in combination with non-cancer drugs, or as adjuncts to conventional chemotherapy or radiation. In 5 randomized, placebo-controlled studies in adults and children, it was found that topical vitamin E might prevent oral mucositis induced by chemotherapy or radiotherapy. In five randomized, controlled or placebo-controlled clinical studies a decrease of the incidence and severity of peripheral neurotoxicity induced by taxanes or platinum-based chemotherapy by alpha-tocopherol was found, but this finding was not confirmed in two other randomized, placebo-controlled studies.

Vitamin E is considered to have a very low toxicity, and is generally well-tolerated. However, special consideration should be given when high doses of alpha-tocopherol are administered to cardiovascular disease patients or individuals taking anticoagulant therapy (e.g., warfarin), and to those with vitamin-K-related clotting disorders. Non-healthy patients should not take daily doses of 400 IU or higher. Little information is available on the adverse events of other forms of vitamin E.

Citation Luc Geeraert, CAM-Cancer Consortium. Vitamin E during cancer treatment [online document]. http://ws.cam-cancer.org/The-Summaries/Dietary-approaches/Vitamin-E-during-cancer-treatment. September 30, 2015.


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