In a world where cancer is worryingly becoming more and more common, we have a growing body of research pertaining to the various causes and effects. As such, antioxidants known to eliminate free radicals, which are frequently mentioned as being a cause, are mostly assumed to be beneficial in treating cancer. However, a new study shows that antioxidants might double the rate of melanoma metastasis in mice.
Researchers from the Sahlgrenska Academy provide additional support to the concept that antioxidants accelerate the progression of lung cancer. When the researchers gave mice antioxidants, they found that the animals developed more aggressive tumours. Other experiments on human lung cancer cells confirmed the results.
This is a problem since antioxidants are usually thought to be a means of preventing cancer.
Subsequent studies at the Sahlgrenska Academy found that antioxidants account for a double rate of metastasis in malignant melanoma (the worst form of skin cancer).
“As opposed to the lung cancer studies, the primary melanoma tumor was not affected,” Professor Bergö says. “But the antioxidant boosted the ability of the tumor cells to metastasize, an even more serious problem because metastasis is the cause of death in the case of melanoma. The primary tumor is not dangerous per se and is usually removed.”
Also, nutritional supplements containing antioxidants might not be a good idea. Professor Martin Bergö recommends cancer patients or those with an increased risk of developing the disease to avoid nutritional supplements that contain antioxidants.
“Previous research at Sahlgrenska Academy has indicated that cancer patients are particularly prone to take supplements containing antioxidants,” Dr. Bergö says. “Our current research combined with information from large clinical trials with antioxidants suggests that people who have been recently diagnosed with cancer should avoid such supplements.”
Professor Bergö mentions that malignant melanoma is known to have a high mortality rate, and that spotting the factors encouraging its propagation is essential.
“Identifying factors that affect the progression of malignant melanoma is a crucial task,” Professor Bergö says.
He also explains that diet is not the only source of antioxidants.
“Skin and suntan lotions sometimes contain beta carotene or vitamin E, both of which could potentially affect malignant melanoma cells in the same way as antioxidants in nutritional supplements,” Professor Bergö says.
They are currently the effect of antioxidants in lotions.
“We are testing whether antioxidants applied directly to malignant melanoma cells in mice hasten the progression of cancer in the same way as their dietary counterparts,” Professor Bergö says.
The professor has highlighted the need for more research.
“Granted that lung cancer is the most common form of the disease and melanoma is expanding fastest, other forms of cancer and types of antioxidants need to be considered if we want to make a fully informed assessment of the role that free radicals and antioxidants play in the process of cancer progression.”