Vitamin E and cancer prevention: Studies with different forms of tocopherols and tocotrienols

Mol Carcinog. 2020 Apr;59(4):365-389. doi: 10.1002/mc.23160. Epub 2020 Feb 3.


α-Tocopherol (α-T) is the major form of vitamin E (VE) in animals and has the highest activity in carrying out the essential antioxidant functions of VE. Because of the involvement of oxidative stress in carcinogenesis, the cancer prevention activity of α-T has been studied extensively. Lower VE intake or nutritional status has been shown to be associated with increased cancer risk, and supplementation of α-T to populations with VE insufficiency has shown beneficial effects in lowering the cancer risk in some intervention studies. However, several large intervention studies with α-T conducted in North America have not demonstrated a cancer prevention effect. More recent studies have centered on the γ- and δ-forms of tocopherols and tocotrienols (T3). In comparison with α-T, these forms have much lower systemic bioavailability but have shown stronger cancer-preventive activities in many studies in animal models and cell lines. γ-T3 and δ-T3 generally have even higher activities than γ-T and δ-T. In this article, we review recent results from human and laboratory studies on the cancer-preventive activities of different forms of tocopherols and tocotrienols, at nutritional and pharmacological levels. We aim to elucidate the possible mechanisms of the preventive actions and discuss the possible application of the available information for human cancer prevention by different VE forms.

Keywords: cancer prevention; humans; tocopherols; tocotrienols; vitamin E.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antioxidants / administration & dosage
  • Antioxidants / pharmacology*
  • Carcinogenesis / drug effects
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Oxidation-Reduction / drug effects
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects
  • Tocopherols / administration & dosage
  • Tocopherols / classification
  • Tocopherols / pharmacology
  • Vitamin E / administration & dosage
  • Vitamin E / pharmacology*


  • Antioxidants
  • Vitamin E
  • Tocopherols