Epidemiologic evidence of the protective effect of fruit and vegetables on cancer risk

Am J Clin Nutr. 2003 Sep;78(3 Suppl):559S-569S. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/78.3.559S.


Background: Diets rich in fruit and vegetables have been recommended for preventing cancer. The evidence supporting this recommendation is based on observational studies, although results of several prospective studies have cast some doubts on whether fruit and vegetables are associated with cancer risk reduction.

Objective: We sought to summarize evidence from case-control and prospective studies on fruit and vegetable intake and cancer risk with a meta-analytic approach.

Design: Published case-control and cohort studies that reported on total vegetable and fruit intake and risk of cancer of several sites were included. Relative risks were estimated by using linear logistic regression models.

Results: Case-control studies overall support a significant reduction in the risks of cancers of the esophagus, lung, stomach, and colorectum associated with both fruit and vegetables; breast cancer is associated with vegetables but not with fruit; and bladder cancer is associated with fruit but not with vegetables. The overall relative risk estimates from cohort studies suggest a protective effect of both fruit and vegetables for most cancer sites considered, but the risk reduction is significant only for cancers of the lung and bladder and only for fruit.

Conclusions: Prospective studies provide weaker evidence than do case-control studies of the association of fruit and vegetable consumption with reduced cancer risk. The discrepancies may be related to recall and selection biases in case-control studies. In contrast, the association may have been underestimated in prospective studies because of the combined effects of imprecise dietary measurements and limited variability of dietary intakes within each cohort.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Diet*
  • Epidemiologic Methods
  • Female
  • Fruit*
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Risk Factors
  • Vegetables*