Homeopathy for Radiation Dermatitis
With Comments by Adriane Fugh-Berman, MDSource: Balzarini A, et al. Efficacy of homeopathic treatment of skin reactions during radiotherapy for breast cancer: A randomised, double-blind clinical trial.Br Homeopath J 2000;89:8-12.
Design/Setting/Subjects: A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial in 66 women with breast cancer treated with surgery and beginning radiation treatment. Patients were examined weekly during six weeks of radiation and 15 and 30 days after the end of radiation. A rating scale was used for skin color, heat, edema, and cutaneous hyperpigmentation.
Treatment/Dose/Duration: Patients received placebo or a homeopathic treatment consisting of Belladonna 7cH, 3 granules sublingually bid, and X-ray 15cH, 3 granules sublingually once a day (the X-ray preparation was obtained with progressive solutions-succussions of a hydroalcoholic solution irradiated with x-rays). Both groups also used a topical medication containing flucortolone.
Results: 61 patients completed the study. There was no significant difference in total severity scores between the two groups. The only statistically significant difference between groups was a lower incidence of edema in the treated group at the fifth and sixth weeks; there was no difference between groups at the seventh and eighth visit (after radiation treatment was completed). "Heat" scores were significantly less in the treated group at five of eight time points; there was no difference in erythema nor hyperpigmentation.
Funding: Not stated.
Comment: This study, which utilized two homeopathic treatments including one that consisted of irradiated alcohol and water, does not provide evidence of efficacy of these treatments for preventing radiation dermatitis. Homeopathy is probably the alternative therapy that is least acceptable to conventional physicians; the idea that treatments with vanishingly small amounts of "active" compounds in them could have an effect goes against much of our training. Still, two meta-analyses have found that the clinical effects of homeopathy exceed that of placebo.1,2 It is not clear, however, for which conditions homeopathy is helpful.
1. Linde K, et al. Are the clinical effects of homeopathy placebo effects? A meta-analysis of placebo-controlled trials. Lancet 1997;350:834-843.
2. Kleijnen J, et al. Clinical trials of homeopathy. BMJ 1991;302:316-323.