Folate and cancer: a review of the literature

Nutr Cancer. 1994;22(2):101-19. doi: 10.1080/01635589409514336.


Folate, a water-soluble vitamin, part of the vitamin B complex, plays an important role in methylation reactions and DNA/RNA synthesis. This review examines the experimental and epidemiological evidence for the association between folate status and risk of cancer. Data have accumulated indicating that low folate status may promote carcinogenesis. Low folate levels are associated with cytogenetic abnormalities in vivo and in vitro. Findings from animal studies are conflicting and suggest that the effect of folate on neoplasia depends on factors such as the animal and tumor model, the type, timing, dose, and length of application of carcinogen, the stage of carcinogenesis, and the level and form of folate administered. Epidemiological studies examined the association between folate and cancer of the cervix, colorectum, lung, esophagus, and brain and suggest that low folate status may play an important role early in the neoplastic process. The potential for inhibition of precursor lesions in the cervix and colorectum, namely, cervical intraepithelial neoplasia and adenomatous polyps, respectively, is of particular interest. Additional research designed to clarify the role of folate in carcinogenesis is warranted.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Folic Acid / administration & dosage
  • Folic Acid / metabolism*
  • Folic Acid / physiology
  • Folic Acid Deficiency / complications*
  • Folic Acid Deficiency / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Methylation
  • Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Risk Factors


  • Folic Acid