Heme iron, zinc and upper digestive tract cancer: the Iowa Women's Health Study

Int J Cancer. 2005 Nov 20;117(4):643-7. doi: 10.1002/ijc.21215.


We examined associations among dietary heme iron as a possible pro-oxidant, dietary zinc as a possible antioxidant, and the incidence of upper digestive tract cancer; 34,708 postmenopausal women, aged 55-69 years at baseline who completed a food frequency questionnaire, were followed 16 years. There were 75 upper digestive tract cancer cases (52 gastric cancer and 23 esophageal cancer). When heme iron and zinc were mutually adjusted, in dose-response manners, heme iron intake was positively associated with the risk of upper digestive tract cancer, while zinc intake was inversely associated with risk. After adjusting for age, total energy intake, cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption, relative risks for quintiles of heme iron intake were 1.0, 1.53, 2.15, 3.05 and 2.83 (p for trend = 0.06) and corresponding relative risks for zinc intake were 1.0, 0.86, 0.42, 0.37 and 0.13 (p for trend < 0.01). Additional adjustment for body mass index, physical activity, hormone replacement therapy, multivitamin intake and intake of saturated fat, vitamin C, vitamin E and folate did not change the results. Higher intake of heme iron is associated with higher risk, while higher intake of zinc is associated with lower, risk of upper digestive tract cancer.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Heme / administration & dosage*
  • Humans
  • Iowa / epidemiology
  • Iron / administration & dosage*
  • Middle Aged
  • Stomach Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Women's Health
  • Zinc / administration & dosage*


  • Heme
  • Iron
  • Zinc