Folate and colorectal cancer: an evidence-based critical review

Mol Nutr Food Res. 2007 Mar;51(3):267-92. doi: 10.1002/mnfr.200600191.


Currently available evidence from epidemiologic, animal, and intervention studies does not unequivocally support the role of folate, a water-soluble B vitamin and important cofactor in one-carbon transfer, in the development and progression of colorectal cancer (CRC). However, when the portfolio of evidence from these studies is analyzed critically, the overall conclusion supports the inverse association between folate status and CRC risk. It is becoming increasingly evident that folate possesses dual modulatory effects on colorectal carcinogenesis depending on the timing and dose of folate intervention. Folate deficiency has an inhibitory effect whereas folate supplementation has a promoting effect on the progression of established colorectal neoplasms. In contrast, folate deficiency in normal colorectal mucosa appears to predispose it to neoplastic transformation, and modest levels of folic acid supplementation suppress, whereas supraphysiologic supplemental doses enhance, the development of cancer in normal colorectal mucosa. Several potential mechanisms relating to the disruption of one-carbon transfer reactions exist to support the dual modulatory role of folate in colorectal carcinogenesis. Based on the lack of compelling supportive evidence and on the potential tumor-promoting effect, routine folic acid supplementation should not be recommended as a chemopreventive measure against CRC at present.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chemoprevention
  • Colorectal Neoplasms* / epidemiology
  • Colorectal Neoplasms* / etiology
  • Colorectal Neoplasms* / prevention & control
  • Diet
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Folic Acid / administration & dosage
  • Folic Acid / physiology*
  • Folic Acid Deficiency
  • Humans
  • Precancerous Conditions
  • Risk Factors


  • Folic Acid