The impact of folate intake on the risk of head and neck cancer in the prostate, lung, colorectal, and ovarian cancer screening trial (PLCO) cohort

Br J Cancer. 2018 Jan;118(2):299-306. doi: 10.1038/bjc.2017.383. Epub 2017 Nov 21.


Background: Although low levels of folate leads to disturbances in DNA replication, DNA methylation and DNA repair, the association between dietary folate intake and head and neck cancer (HNC) risk remains unclear.

Methods: We evaluated the association between folate intake and HNC risk using prospective cohort data from the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian (PLCO) cancer screening trial. This study included 101 700 participants and 186 cases with confirmed incident HNC. The median follow-up was 12.5 years. We estimated hazard ratios (HRs) and the corresponding 95% confidence intervals (CIs) using Cox proportional hazard model including age, sex, body mass index, education, race, tobacco smoking, alcohol drinking and total fruit and vegetable intake.

Results: Higher intake of food folate and fortified folic acid in foods was associated with a decreasing HNC risk in a dose-response manner. The HRs of highest vs the lowest quartile of intake were 0.35 (95%CI: 0.18-0.67) for food folate, and 0.49 (95%CI: 0.30-0.82) for fortified folic acid. Intakes of total folate, natural folate and supplemental folic acid were not associated with the risk of HNC and its subsites. We did not detect any interaction between smoking, drinking and food folate intake on HNC risk.

Conclusions: These findings provide evidence of the protective role of dietary folate intake on HNC risk.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cohort Studies
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Diet / statistics & numerical data
  • Early Detection of Cancer
  • Female
  • Folic Acid / administration & dosage*
  • Food, Fortified / statistics & numerical data
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Lung Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Prospective Studies
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Folic Acid