Diet and oral, pharyngeal, and esophageal cancer

Nutr Cancer. 2002;44(2):104-26. doi: 10.1207/S15327914NC4402_01.


Cancers of the upper digestive tract, including those arising in the oral cavity, pharynx, and esophagus, present a significant public health problem worldwide. These cancers are associated with high morbidity and mortality, and identification of protective factors is very important. A number of epidemiological studies have examined the association between vegetables, fruits, carotene, vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin E and oral, pharyngeal, and esophageal cancers. The results of 35 epidemiological studies, including one prospective cohort study, one nested case-control study, two randomized controlled trials, nine population-based case-control studies, and 22 hospital-based case-control studies, in addition to in vitro and animal studies, were examined to determine whether the criteria for causal assumption were satisfied for a protective role of these dietary components against development of oral, pharyngeal, and esophageal cancers. There is enough evidence to point to a preventive role of vegetable intake, including green vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, and yellow vegetables, total fruit intake, and citrus fruit intake. Yellow fruits are likely to be protective. Carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin E are protective, most likely in combination with each other and other micronutrients. The role of vitamin A is not clear because of conflicting findings in the studies reviewed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diet / statistics & numerical data*
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mouth Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Pharyngeal Neoplasms / prevention & control*