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Green Tea vs. Oral Cancer: Further Study Needed

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TeaBags.jpgBy Laura Prus, Staff Writer

In a recent study, researchers found that green tea extract may prevent oral cancer in patients with oral leukoplakia, a pre-malignant condition that develops on the tongue or inside of the cheek in response to chronic irritation or tobacco carcinogen exposure.

According to the American Cancer Society, almost 36,000 people were expected to be diagnosed with oral and/or pharynx cancer in 2009. The five-year survival rate is 60%.

M. D. Anderson researchers were the first to examine green tea extract as a chemopreventive agent in this population at high risk for developing cancer. More than half of the patients who took the extract had a clinical response.

Studying the extract

Green tea often has been investigated in laboratory, epidemiological and clinical settings due to its abundance of polyphenols, which are known to deter cancer production in preclinical models.

This study involved 41 M. D. Anderson oral leukoplakia patients. Between August 2002 and March 2008, these patients were randomly selected to receive either the green tea extract or a placebo. These agents were taken for three months at one of three dosages in accordance with the patient's weight. Patients also underwent a baseline and 12-week biopsy to assess biomarkers.

Results are positive

The study yielded encouraging results:
•    58.8% of patients receiving the two highest doses had a clinical response (50% or more reduction in the size of all measured areas of oral leukoplakia)
•    36.4% of patients receiving the lowest dose had a clinical response
•    18.2% of patients receiving a placebo had a clinical response

An extended follow-up at 27.5 months showed that 15 participants across all three groups had developed oral cancer, with a median time to disease development of 46.4 months. The researchers found no difference in disease development overall between green tea and placebo users, suggesting that a longer intervention with the agent may be needed.

Side effects of the trial were minimal, consisting of insomnia and nervousness, seen mostly in the high-dose group. The extract was well tolerated.

Further research needed

"While still very early, and not definitive proof that green tea is an effective preventive agent, these results certainly encourage more study for patients at highest risk for oral cancer," says Vassiliki Papadimitrakopoulou, M.D., professor in M. D. Anderson's Department of Thoracic/Head and Neck Medical Oncology and the study's senior author. "The extract's lack of toxicity is attractive. In prevention trials, it's very important to remember that these are otherwise healthy individuals and we need to ensure that agents studied produce no harm."

M. D. Anderson Resources:
News Release - Green Tea Shows Promise as Chemoprevention Agent for Oral Cancer, M. D. Anderson Study Finds

Oral cancer information from M. D. Anderson


Additional resources:
Oral cancer (American Cancer Society)

Oral cancer (National Cancer Institute)


1 Comment

Given the very very low risk of drinking green tea, and the potential benefit in terms of both possible disease prevention and and cost reduction, I see little reason to wait for "further study". However, it's always best to get the approval of your treating Oncologist.

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