Carotenoids and the risk of developing lung cancer: a systematic review

Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 Aug;88(2):372-83. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/88.2.372.


Background: Carotenoids are thought to have anti-cancer properties, but findings from population-based research have been inconsistent.

Objective: We aimed to conduct a systematic review of the associations between carotenoids and lung cancer.

Design: We searched electronic databases for articles published through September 2007. Six randomized clinical trials examining the efficacy of beta-carotene supplements and 25 prospective observational studies assessing the associations between carotenoids and lung cancer were analyzed by using random-effects meta-analysis.

Results: The pooled relative risk (RR) for the studies comparing beta-carotene supplements with placebo was 1.10 (95% confidence limits: 0.89, 1.36; P = 0.39). Among the observational studies that adjusted for smoking, the pooled RRs comparing highest and lowest categories of total carotenoid intake and of total carotenoid serum concentrations were 0.79 (0.71, 0.87; P < 0.001) and 0.70 (0.44, 1.11; P = 0.14), respectively. For beta-carotene, highest compared with lowest pooled RRs were 0.92 (0.83, 1.01; P = 0.09) for dietary intake and 0.84 (0.66, 1.07; P = 0.15) for serum concentrations. For other carotenoids, the RRs comparing highest and lowest categories of intake ranged from 0.80 for beta-cryptoxanthin to 0.89 for alpha-carotene and lutein-zeaxanthin; for serum concentrations, the RRs ranged from 0.71 for lycopene to 0.95 for lutein-zeaxanthin.

Conclusions: beta-Carotene supplementation is not associated with a decrease in the risk of developing lung cancer. Findings from prospective cohort studies suggest inverse associations between carotenoids and lung cancer; however, the decreases in risk are generally small and not statistically significant. These inverse associations may be the result of carotenoid measurements' function as a marker of a healthier lifestyle (higher fruit and vegetable consumption) or of residual confounding by smoking.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Carotenoids / administration & dosage*
  • Carotenoids / blood*
  • Diet*
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Female
  • Fruit
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / blood
  • Lung Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Lung Neoplasms / etiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nutritional Status*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Risk Factors
  • Smoking / adverse effects
  • Vegetables


  • Carotenoids