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Can Green Tea active EGCG reduce Radiation-Induced swallowing difficulties in Esophageal Cancer Patients?

Apr 1, 2020


In a small prospective study conducted in China, researchers evaluated the use of Epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), a flavonoid present abundantly in the most popular drink – Green tea, in esophageal cancer patients with radiation induced swallowing difficulties. They found that EGCG may be beneficial in reducing radiation induced swallowing difficulties in these patients treated with concurrent chemoradiation or radiation therapy without negatively impacting the efficacy of these therapies. Green tea, usually taken as part of a healthy diet/nutrition, may also be used to reduce chemo-induced side-effects in esophageal cancer.

Esophageal Cancer and Esophagitis

Esophageal cancer is estimated to be the seventh common cause of cancer worldwide and accounts for 5.3 % of cancer deaths globally (GLOBOCAN, 2018). Radiation and chemoradiation (chemotherapy along with radiation) are the most commonly used treatments for esophageal cancer. However, these treatments are associated with several serious side-effects including acute radiation induced esophagitis (ARIE). Esophagitis is the inflammation of the esophagus, a muscular hollow tube which connects the throat with the stomach. The onset of acute radiation-induced esophagitis (ARIE) generally happens within 3 months post radiotherapy and can often lead to serious swallowing problems / difficulties. Hence, different strategies for relieving radiation-induced swallowing problems are being explored as it is crucial to the oncologists for the proper management of impacted patients.

Green Tea for Swallowing difficulties in Esophageal Cancer

Green Tea active EGCG for Swallowing Difficulties in Esophageal Cancer

Epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) is a flavonoid with strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and is also used for reducing the risk of specific cancers. It is one of the most abundant ingredients present in green tea and is also found in white, oolong, and black teas. A phase II clinical study was recently conducted by the researchers at Shandong Cancer Hospital and Institute in China, to evaluate the effect of green tea component EGCG (usually taken as part of a healthy diet) on chemoradiation/radiation induced esophagitis (swallowing difficulties) in esophageal cancer patients who were admitted between 2014 to 2016 (Xiaoling Li et al, Journal of Medicinal Food, 2019). A total of 51 patients were included in the study,out of which 22 patients received concurrent chemoradiation therapy (14 patients were treated with docetaxel + cisplatin followed by radiotherapy and 8 with fluorouracil + cisplatin followed by radiotherapy) and 29 patients received radiation therapy and were monitored weekly for acute radiation induced esophagitis (ARIE) / swallowing difficulties. The severity of ARIE was determined using Radiation Therapy Oncology Group (RTOG) Score. Patients with grade 1 RTOG score were supplemented with 440 µM EGCG and the RTOG scores after the use of EGCG were compared with the baseline scores (when treated with radiation or chemoradiation). 

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The key findings of the study are listed below (Xiaoling Li et al, Journal of Medicinal Food, 2019):

  • The comparison of the RTOG scores in the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth week after EGCG (green tea active) supplementation and the first and second week after radiotherapy indicated a significant reduction in swallowing difficulties / acute radiation induced esophagitis (ARIE). 
  • 44 out of 51 patients showed a clinical response, with the response rate at 86.3%, including 10 Complete Response and 34 Partial Response. 
  • After 1, 2, and 3 years, the overall survival rate was found to be 74.5%, 58%, and 40.5% respectively.


Based on these key findings, the researchers concluded that EGCG supplementation reduces swallowing difficulties without negatively impacting the efficacy of radiation therapy. Drinking Green tea as part of daily diet would be hence helpful in reducing the swallowing difficulties, thereby improving the quality of life of esophageal cancer patients. Such clinical studies, though conducted in a small set of patients, are promising and help in identifying new strategies to manage chemotherapy or radiation therapy induced side-effects. However, the effects of EGCG in reducing radiation induced esophagitis should be further evaluated and confirmed in a large randomized clinical study with a control group (control group was missing in the current study) before implementing it as a treatment protocol.

Cancer patients often have to deal with different chemotherapy side effects which affect their quality of life and look out for alternative therapies for cancer.Taking the right nutrition and supplements based on scientific considerations (avoiding guesswork and random selection) is the best natural remedy for cancer and treatment related side-effects.