Vitamin E and cancer: an update on the emerging role of γ and δ tocotrienols

Eur J Nutr. 2020 Apr;59(3):845-857. doi: 10.1007/s00394-019-01962-1. Epub 2019 Apr 16.


Despite significant advances in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, the latter still remains a fatal disease due to the lack of prevention, early diagnosis, and effective drugs. Radiotherapy, chemotherapy, and surgery are not only expensive but produce a number of side effects that are detrimental to the patients' quality of life. Therefore, there is a great need to discover anti-cancer therapies that are specific to cancer cells and affordable, safe, and well tolerated by the patients. Vitamin E is a potential candidate due to its safety. Accumulating evidence on the anti-cancer potency of vitamin E has shifted the focus from tocopherols (TOCs) to tocotrienols (TTs). γ-TT and δ-TT have the highest anti-cancer activities and target common molecular pathways involved in the inhibition of the cell cycle, the induction of apoptosis and autophagy, and the inhibition of invasion, metastasis, and angiogenesis. Future directions should focus on further investigating how γ-TT and δ-TT (solely or in combination) induce anti-cancer molecular pathways when used in the presence of conventional chemotherapeutic drugs. These studies should be carried out in vitro, and promising results and combinations should then be assessed in in vivo experiments and finally in clinical trials. Finally, future research should focus on further evaluating the roles of γ-TT and δ-TT in the chemoprevention of cancer.

Keywords: Cancer; Caspase-independent programmed cell death; Tocotrienols; Vitamin E.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Tocotrienols / therapeutic use*
  • Vitamin E / therapeutic use


  • Tocotrienols
  • Vitamin E