Dairy food, calcium, and risk of cancer in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study

Arch Intern Med. 2009 Feb 23;169(4):391-401. doi: 10.1001/archinternmed.2008.578.


Background: Dairy food and calcium intakes have been hypothesized to play roles that differ among individual cancer sites, but the evidence has been limited and inconsistent. Moreover, their effect on cancer in total is unclear.

Methods: Dairy food and calcium intakes in relation to total cancer as well as cancer at individual sites were examined in the National Institutes of Health (NIH)-AARP (formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons) Diet and Health Study. Intakes of dairy food and calcium from foods and supplements were assessed with a food frequency questionnaire. Incident cancer cases were identified through linkage with state cancer registries. A Cox proportional hazard model was used to estimate relative risks and 2-sided 95% confidence intervals (CIs).

Results: During an average of 7 years of follow-up, we identified 36 965 and 16 605 cancer cases in men and women, respectively. Calcium intake was not related to total cancer in men but was nonlinearly associated with total cancer in women: the risk decreased up to approximately 1300 mg/d, above which no further risk reduction was observed. In both men and women, dairy food and calcium intakes were inversely associated with cancers of the digestive system (multivariate relative risk for the highest quintile of total calcium vs the lowest, 0.84; 95% CI, 0.77-0.92 in men, and 0.77; 95% CI, 0.69-0.91 in women). Decreased risk was particularly pronounced with colorectal cancer. Supplemental calcium intake was also inversely associated with colorectal cancer risk.

Conclusion: Our study suggests that calcium intake is associated with a lower risk of total cancer and cancers of the digestive system, especially colorectal cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Calcium, Dietary / administration & dosage*
  • Calcium, Dietary / blood*
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Dairy Products
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Life Style
  • Male
  • Medical Record Linkage
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • National Institutes of Health (U.S.)
  • Neoplasms / blood
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Odds Ratio
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Registries
  • Research Design
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Calcium, Dietary