Dietary flavonoids and cancer risk: evidence from human population studies

Nutr Cancer. 2004;50(1):1-7. doi: 10.1207/s15327914nc5001_1.


High dietary intake of fruits and vegetables is consistently associated with a reduced risk of common human cancers, including cancers of the lung, breast, prostate, and colon. It is unknown which bioactive compound or compounds in plant foods provide the chemoprotective effects. One class of compounds currently under investigation is flavonoids, a large group of compounds with similar structure, consisting of two phenolic benzene rings linked to a heterocyclic pyran or pyrone. Although there are numerous in vitro and animal model data suggesting that flavonoids influence important cellular and molecular mechanisms related to carcinogenesis, such as cell cycle control and apoptosis, there are limited data from human population studies. This article reviews data from four cohort studies and six case-control studies, which have examined associations of flavonoid intake with cancer risk. There is consistent evidence from these studies that flavonoids, especially quercetin, may reduce the risk of lung cancer. Further research using new dietary databases for food flavonoid content is needed to confirm these findings before specific public health recommendations about flavonoids can be formulated.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Antioxidants / administration & dosage*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cell Cycle / drug effects
  • Cohort Studies
  • Diet*
  • Female
  • Flavonoids / administration & dosage*
  • Fruit / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Risk Factors
  • Vegetables / chemistry


  • Antioxidants
  • Flavonoids