Unmetabolized Folic Acid, Tetrahydrofolate, and Colorectal Adenoma Risk

Cancer Prev Res (Phila). 2017 Aug;10(8):451-458. doi: 10.1158/1940-6207.CAPR-16-0278. Epub 2017 Jun 9.


In a randomized trial of folic acid supplementation for the prevention of colorectal adenomas, we previously found indications of increased risk during later treatment and follow-up. This could have been due to the unmetabolized folic acid (UFA) or natural reduced and methylated folates (mF) to which it is metabolized. In post hoc analyses, we measured mF (the sum of 5-methyl-tetrahydrofolate and 4-alfa-hydroxy-5-methyl-THF) and UFA concentrations in the serum of 924 participants. Using binomial regression models with a log link, we assessed the associations between plasma mF or UFA and adenoma occurrence. We found no association between plasma mF or UFA and overall adenoma risk. However, during later follow-up, the prespecified, composite endpoint of high-risk findings (advanced or multiple adenomas) was positively associated with plasma mF (Plinear trend = 0.009), with a 58% increased risk for participants in the upper versus lowest quartile. An irregular association was seen with plasma UFA, with suggestions of an inverse trend (Plinear trend=0.049). A modest, significant inverse association was also seen between mF and risk of serrated lesions, with a 39% lower risk for upper versus lower quartile participants (Plinear trend = 0.03). In conclusion, during the later follow-up period in which folic acid supplementation was previously seen to increase the risk of advanced and multiple adenomas, higher serum mF was associated with a higher risk of multiple and/or advanced adenomas, but no clear indication that UFA played a direct role. There were indications that higher mF was associated with reduced risk of serrated polyps. Cancer Prev Res; 10(8); 451-8. ©2017 AACR.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adenoma / metabolism*
  • Adenoma / prevention & control
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / therapeutic use
  • Aspirin / therapeutic use
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Folic Acid / adverse effects*
  • Folic Acid / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Tetrahydrofolates / metabolism*
  • Young Adult


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • Tetrahydrofolates
  • 5,6,7,8-tetrahydrofolic acid
  • Folic Acid
  • Aspirin