Chemopreventive activity of vitamin E in breast cancer: a focus on γ- and δ-tocopherol

Nutrients. 2011 Nov;3(11):962-86. doi: 10.3390/nu3110962. Epub 2011 Nov 14.


Vitamin E consists of eight different variants: α-, β-, γ-, and δ-tocopherols (saturated phytyl tail) and α-, β-, γ-, and δ-tocotrienols (unsaturated phytyl tail). Cancer prevention studies with vitamin E have primarily utilized the variant α-tocopherol. To no avail, a majority of these studies focused on variant α-tocopherol with inconsistent results. However, γ-tocopherol, and more recently δ-tocopherol, have shown greater ability to reduce inflammation, cell proliferation, and tumor burden. Recent results have shown that γ-enriched mixed tocopherols inhibit the development of mammary hyperplasia and tumorigenesis in animal models. In this review, we discuss the possible differences between the variant forms, molecular targets, and cancer-preventive effects of tocopherols. We recommend that a γ-enriched mixture, γ- and δ-tocopherol, but not α-tocopherol, are promising agents for breast cancer prevention and warrant further investigation.

Keywords: vitamin E; anti-inflammatory; apoptosis; breast cancer; case-control studies; cell proliferation; estrogen receptor (ER); nuclear factor (erythroid-derived 2)-like 2 (Nrf2); peroxisome proliferator activated receptor γ (PPARγ); tocopherols.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Cyclooxygenase 2 / metabolism
  • ErbB Receptors / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2 / metabolism
  • PPAR gamma / metabolism
  • Receptors, Estrogen / metabolism
  • Tocopherols / pharmacology*
  • Vitamin E / pharmacology
  • alpha-Tocopherol / pharmacology
  • gamma-Tocopherol / pharmacology*


  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2
  • PPAR gamma
  • Receptors, Estrogen
  • Vitamin E
  • gamma-Tocopherol
  • Cyclooxygenase 2
  • ErbB Receptors
  • alpha-Tocopherol
  • delta-tocopherol
  • Tocopherols