Effects of glutamine for prevention of radiation-induced esophagitis: a double-blind placebo-controlled trial

Anas Alshawa, Alexandra Perez Cadena, Bettzy Stephen, Akhila Reddy, Tito R. Mendoza, Lacey McQuinn, Kristie Lawhorn, Abdulrazzak Zarifa, Alexander Maximilian Bernhardt, Senait Fessaheye, Carla L. Warneke, Joe Y. Chang, Aung Naing

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose Acute radiation-induced esophagitis (ARIE) leads to treatment delays, decreased quality of life (QOL), and secondary adverse events such as weight loss. Grade 3 ARIE occurs in 15%–30% of patients undergoing radiotherapy to the esophagus, leading to disruption or discontinuation of treatment. The purpose of this study was to assess the effects of glutamine, a common nutritional supplement, on ARIE in patients with thoracic malignancies. Patients and methods This double-blind, placebo-controlled trial enrolled patients with advanced thoracic malignancies receiving concurrent chemotherapy/radiotherapy or radiotherapy alone, with radiation doses to the esophagus ≥45 Gy. Patients were randomized (1:1) to receive 4 g of glutamine or glycine placebo twice daily. The primary objective was to determine whether glutamine decreases the severity of ARIE in these patients. Secondary objectives included assessment of the effects of glutamine on other measures of ARIE, weight, symptom burden measure assessed by the MD Anderson Symptom Inventory (MDASI-HN) questionnaire and the toxicity profile of glutamine. Results At the time of interim analysis, 53 patients were enrolled: 27 in the glutamine arm and 26 in the placebo arm. There was no difference in the incidence of esophagitis in the first 6 weeks of radiotherapy between the glutamine and placebo arms (74% versus 68%; P = 1.00). There were no significant differences between the two arms for time to onset of esophagitis. The duration of ARIE was shorter (6.3 versus 7.1 weeks; P = 0.54) and median weight loss was lower (0.9 kg versus 2.8 kg; p = 0.83) in the glutamine arm versus the placebo arm. The groups differ significantly in core symptom severity (2.1 vs 1.5, p <.03) but not in head and neck specific symptom severity (1.2 vs 1.1, p <.60) nor in symptom interference (2.1 vs 1.7, p <.22). There was no grade 3 or higher adverse event at least possibly related to glutamine. The study was terminated for futility following interim analysis. Conclusion Oral glutamine was not associated with significant improvement in severity of ARIE, weight loss, head and neck specific symptoms or symptom interference compared with placebo in patients with advanced thoracic malignancies receiving radiotherapy to the esophagus. Clinical trial information. NCT01952847, and date of registration is September 30, 2013.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1113-1122
Number of pages10
JournalInvestigational New Drugs
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2021


  • Advanced cancers
  • Clinical trial
  • Esophagitis
  • Glutamine
  • Prevention
  • Radiation to the esophagus
  • Thoracic malignancies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacology (medical)

MD Anderson CCSG core facilities

  • Assessment, Intervention, and Measurement


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