High Doses of Vitamin D Found to Help Combat Toxic Erythema From Chemotherapy

One of the side effects of cancer treatment is toxic erythema of chemotherapy, or TEC. This involves patches and lesions on the skin found primarily on hands, feet, and areas with skin folds. Currently, this is treated with high-potency topical steroids, but they can take a few weeks to work. A new study finds that there may be another option.

Researchers at Northwestern Medicine had previously found that high vitamin D doses were effective against erythema caused by severe sunburn and skin injuries stemming from chemotherapy, so they decided to try it in patients with TEC.


Dr. Cuong Nguyen, the study’s lead author and assistant professor of dermatology, says, “With toxic erythema of chemotherapy, the chemotherapy causes toxic injury to skin, somewhat similarly to how UV radiation may cause direct skin injury.”

Their findings, published in JAMA Dermatology, show that much like it had for sunburn, high-dose vitamin D helped minimize the impacts of TEC. This was in six patients between the ages of 36 and 38. Four of them had acute myeloid leukemia, one had aplastic anemia, and one had glioblastoma. For each of them, TEC began about a week after receiving chemo.

When they were given varying amounts of vitamin D, all saw improvements in pain, itchiness, or swelling within just one day. By four days, they were all seeing lessened redness, as well.


Though this demonstrates benefits in the short-term, the team says more research is needed to determine if it would help long-term.

Dr. Nguyen explains, “Right now, we only know that it helps improve things temporarily in the acute setting. But we don’t know if vitamin D on a more long-term basis would also be beneficial. The goal is to help improve the quality of life for patients.”

The cause of TEC isn’t known, but experts believe it may be due to the excretion of chemotherapy in sweat, causing toxic effects to skin cells and a type of sweat gland called eccrine glands.

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