Heme iron, zinc, alcohol consumption, and colon cancer: Iowa Women's Health Study

J Natl Cancer Inst. 2004 Mar 3;96(5):403-7. doi: 10.1093/jnci/djh047.


We examined associations among colon cancer incidence and dietary intake of heme iron, a possible prooxidant, zinc, a possible antioxidant, and alcohol, a disruptor of iron homeostasis. During 15 years of follow-up, 34 708 postmenopausal women, aged 55-69 years at baseline who completed a food-frequency questionnaire for the Iowa Women's Health Study, were followed for incident colon cancer. After adjusting for each micronutrient, the relative risks for proximal colon cancer increased more than twofold across categories of heme iron intake (P(trend) =.01) and the corresponding relative risks decreased more than 50% across categories for zinc intake (P(trend) =.01). The positive association with heme iron and the inverse association with zinc intake were stronger among women who consumed alcohol than among those who did not. Zinc intake was also associated with a decreased risk of distal colon cancer (P(trend) =.03), regardless of alcohol or heme iron consumption. Our results suggest that intake of dietary heme iron is associated with an increased risk of proximal colon cancer, especially among women who drink, but that intake of dietary zinc is associated with a decreased risk of both proximal and distal colon cancer.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects*
  • Anticarcinogenic Agents / administration & dosage
  • Anticarcinogenic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Antioxidants / administration & dosage
  • Antioxidants / pharmacology
  • Carcinogens / administration & dosage
  • Carcinogens / adverse effects*
  • Colonic Neoplasms / blood
  • Colonic Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Colonic Neoplasms / etiology
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Hemoglobins / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Iowa
  • Iron, Dietary / administration & dosage
  • Iron, Dietary / adverse effects*
  • Medical Record Linkage
  • Middle Aged
  • Oxidants / adverse effects
  • Registries
  • Research Design
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Women's Health
  • Zinc Compounds / administration & dosage
  • Zinc Compounds / pharmacology*


  • Anticarcinogenic Agents
  • Antioxidants
  • Carcinogens
  • Hemoglobins
  • Iron, Dietary
  • Oxidants
  • Zinc Compounds