Background: A number of vitamins and minerals have been shown to influence carcinogenesis in experimental animals. In humans, epidemiologic evidence suggests that intake of fruits and vegetables may reduce risk of esophageal and other cancers. Vitamins and minerals in these foods may contribute to the reduced cancer risk. The people of Linxian, China, have persistently low intake of multiple nutrients and exhibit one of the world's highest rates of esophageal/gastric cardia cancer, with an exceptionally high risk of esophageal dysplasia.
Purpose: To determine whether supplementation with multiple vitamins and minerals may reduce esophageal/gastric cardia cancer among persons with esophageal dysplasia, we conducted a 6-year prospective intervention trial in Linxian.
Methods: Mortality and cancer incidence were ascertained from May 1985 through May 1991 for 3318 persons with cytologic evidence of esophageal dysplasia who were randomly assigned to receive, throughout that period, daily supplementation with 14 vitamins and 12 minerals or placebo. Doses were typically two to three times U.S. Recommended Daily Allowances. Compliance was assessed by counting unused pills monthly for all trial participants and by assaying nutrient levels in blood collected from samples of individuals randomly selected without replacement every 3 months throughout the trial. Cancers were identified through routine surveillance and by special cytology and endoscopy screenings after 2 1/2 years and 6 years.
Results: A total of 324 deaths occurred during the 6-year intervention period; 167 occurred in the control (placebo) group and 157 occurred in the supplement group. Cancer was the leading cause of death (54% of all deaths); 18% were due to cerebrovascular diseases and 29% to other causes. Cumulative esophageal/gastric cardia death rates were 8% lower (relative risk [RR] = 0.92; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.67-1.28) among individuals receiving supplements rather than placebo, a nonsignificant (P > .10) difference. Risk of total mortality was 7% lower (RR = 0.93; 95% CI = 0.75-1.16; P > .10), total cancer 4% lower (RR = 0.96; 95% CI = 0.71-1.29; P > .10), cerebrovascular disease 38% lower (RR = 0.62; 95% CI = 0.37-1.06; P = .08), and other diseases 12% higher (RR = 1.12; 95% CI = 0.74-1.69; P > .10) among the treated group. Cumulative cancer incidence rates were nearly the same in the two groups.
Conclusions: No substantial short-term beneficial effect on incidence or mortality for this type of cancer occurred following daily supplementation with multiple vitamins and minerals among adults with precancerous lesions of the esophagus.
Implications: Although no statistically significant short-term benefits were observed, longer follow-up should be more informative about the effectiveness of this 6-year supplementation on cancer and other diseases among individuals with esophageal dysplasia.