Entry #: 10
Date: 10 August 2017
Section: Radiation Biology
Topic: Olive oil and radiation protection
Type: Human volunteer trial

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Expert review of literature related to olives and olive oil

D. Elizabeth McCord, Nancy B. Ray and Tom C. Karagiannis


Topical use of olive oil preparation to prevent radiodermatitis: results of a prospective study in nasopharyngeal carcinoma patients


Cui Z et al

Citation / Year

(1) / 2015


Olive oil, radiodermatitis, radiation protection, nasopharyngeal carcinoma, skin injury


Radiotherapy is a widely used therapeutic modality and an important component for the treatment of nasopharyngeal carcinoma. However, radiation therapy invariably results in the irradiation of normal adjacent tissues. In particular acute radiation dermatitis is a common side effects in people receiving radiotherapy. To date, there is no consensus on the prophylaxis of radiation-induced skin injury and prophylaxis using a potential radiation protector represents an important endeavour (2). Topical treatments based on natural products (for example, aloe vera gel (3)) have been investigated with some success. In this study the effects of topical application of olive oil was investigated in people receiving radiation therapy (n=47 for intervention and control groups) for clinical stage III or IV nasopharyngeal carcinoma. The radiation therapy consisted of fractionated doses (70 Gy total; 2 Gy fractions over seven weeks). The study group was concurrently treated with chemotherapy (weekly cisplatin [25-30 mg/m2] and docetaxel [25-30 mg/m2]). Olive oil was applied topically on the first day of radiation therapy (three times daily) and continued until two weeks after the completion of radiation treatment. The control group received the general skin regime (with placebo – water).

Key points and implications

Skin reactions were scored using the conventional grading scale by two individuals (dermatologist and radiologist who were blinded to the study). The grading scale ranges from 0 (no change) to 3 (widespread sweating and edema); scores were recorded at least weekly (4). Further, acute skin reactions were monitored according to the Radiation Therapy Oncology Group (5, 6). As anticipated the findings indicated that 100% of participants developed some degree of dermatitis by weeks six and seven. Overall, at the end of the study only mild skin reactions (grades I-II; 93.6% compared to 72.3% in the control group) were observed in the intervention group. More severe (grade III) skin reactions were observed in only 6.4% of the participants using the topical olive compared to 27.7% in the control group. Overall, this study provides evidence for the potential use of topical olive oil application for the amelioration of acute radiation dermatitis. Given the safety and efficacy of olive oil further investigation using more advanced formulations, perhaps with different olive-derived components, could potentially lead to consensus on the prophylactic use of topical formulations in radiation therapy.

Related publications

  1. Z. Cui, M. Xin, H. Yin, J. Zhang, F. Han, Topical use of olive oil preparation to prevent radiodermatitis: results of a prospective study in nasopharyngeal carcinoma patients. Int J Clin Exp Med 8, 11000-11006 (2015).
  2. E. Becze, Put evidence into practice to manage radiodermatitis. ONS Connect 26, 14-15 (2011).
  3. S. Heggie et al., A Phase III study on the efficacy of topical aloe vera gel on irradiated breast tissue. Cancer Nurs 25, 442-451 (2002).
  4. M. E. Wewers, N. K. Lowe, A critical review of visual analogue scales in the measurement of clinical phenomena. Res Nurs Health 13, 227-236 (1990).
  5. J. S. Zimmermann et al., [Prevention and therapy of acute radiation injuries of the skin and mucosa. I. Results of a German multicenter questionnaire]. Strahlenther Onkol 174, 142-148 (1998).
  6. A. M. Pires, R. A. Segreto, H. R. Segreto, RTOG criteria to evaluate acute skin reaction and its risk factors in patients with breast cancer submitted to radiotherapy. Rev Lat Am Enfermagem 16, 844-849 (2008).