The effect of beta-carotene supplementation on cancer incidence has been investigated in several randomized controlled trials. The objective was to review the effect of beta-carotene supplementation on cancer incidence in randomized trials by cancer site, beta-carotene supplementation characteristics and study population. Relevant trials were retrieved by searching PubMed (up to April 2009). Authors involved in selected studies were contacted for additional information. Thirteen publications reporting results from 9 randomized controlled trials were included. Overall, no effect of beta-carotene supplementation was observed on the incidence of all cancers combined (RR, 1.01; 95% CI, 0.98-1.04), pancreatic cancer (RR, 0.99; 95% CI, 0.73-1.36), colorectal cancer (RR, 0.96; 95% CI, 0.85-1.09), prostate cancer (RR, 0.99; 95% CI, 0.91-1.07), breast cancer (RR, 0.96; 95% CI, 0.85-1.10), melanoma (RR, 0.98; 95% CI, 0.65-1.46) and non melanoma skin cancer (RR, 0.99; 95% CI, 0.93-1.05). The incidence of lung and stomach cancers were significantly increased in individuals supplemented with beta-carotene at 20-30 mg day(-1) (RR, 1.16; 95% CI, 1.06-1.27 and RR, 1.34; 95% CI, 1.06-1.70), in smokers and asbestos workers (RR, 1.20; 95% CI, 1.07-1.34 and RR, 1.54; 95% CI, 1.08-2.19) compared to the placebo group. Beta-carotene supplementation has not been shown to have any beneficial effect on cancer prevention. Conversely, it was associated with increased risk not only of lung cancer but also of gastric cancer at doses of 20-30 mg day(-1), in smokers and asbestos workers. This study adds to the evidence that nutritional prevention of cancer through beta-carotene supplementation should not be recommended.