Public Release: 

No protective effect on cancer from long-term vitamin E or vitamin C supplementation

American Association for Cancer Research

The Physicians' Health Study II is a large-scale, long-term, randomized clinical trial that included 14,641 physicians who were at least 50 years old at enrollment. These physicians were given 400 IU of vitamin E every other day or its placebo, or 500 mg of vitamin C daily or its placebo.

Researchers followed these patients for up to 10 years for the development of cancer with high rates of completion of annual questionnaires, and the confirmation of reported cancer endpoints.

Analyses indicate that randomization to vitamin E did not have a significant effect on prostate cancer. This lack of effect for vitamin E also extended to total cancer. Vitamin C had a similar lack of effect on total cancer.

"After nearly 10 years of supplementation with either vitamin E or vitamin C, we found no evidence supporting the use of either supplement in the prevention of cancer," said Howard D. Sesso, Sc.D., M.P.H., an assistant professor of medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital. "While vitamin E and C supplement use did not produce any protective benefits, they also did not cause any harm," he added.

Previous laboratory research and observational studies in which people who reported eating a diet rich in vitamins E and C were found to have a lower risk of cancer, had suggested that taking these vitamins as individual supplements may offer some protective benefits.

Study co-author and principal investigator J. Michael Gaziano, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital and VA Boston, adds, "Individual vitamin supplements such as vitamin E and C do not appear to provide the same potential advantages as vitamins included as part of a healthy, balanced diet."

Finally, Sesso said that these results provide clinically meaningful new information. "Our results represent one of only a few clinical trials that have tested this idea. The final component of the Physicians' Health Study II, testing daily multivitamin supplementation, remains ongoing."

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The mission of the American Association for Cancer Research is to prevent and cure cancer. Founded in 1907, AACR is the world's oldest and largest professional organization dedicated to advancing cancer research. The membership includes more than 28,000 basic, translational and clinical researchers; health care professionals; and cancer survivors and advocates in the United States and 80 other countries. The AACR marshals the full spectrum of expertise from the cancer community to accelerate progress in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer through high-quality scientific and educational programs. It funds innovative, meritorious research grants. The AACR Annual Meeting attracts more than 17,000 participants who share the latest discoveries and developments in the field. Special conferences throughout the year present novel data across a wide variety of topics in cancer research, treatment and patient care. The AACR publishes five major peer-reviewed journals: Cancer Research; Clinical Cancer Research; Molecular Cancer Therapeutics; Molecular Cancer Research; and Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. The AACR's most recent publication and its sixth major journal, Cancer Prevention Research, is dedicated exclusively to cancer prevention, from preclinical research to clinical trials. The AACR also publishes CR, a magazine for cancer survivors and their families, patient advocates, physicians and scientists. CR provides a forum for sharing essential, evidence-based information and perspectives on progress in cancer research, survivorship and advocacy.

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