Calcium and the prevention of colon cancer

J Cell Biochem Suppl. 1995:22:65-73. doi: 10.1002/jcb.240590810.


Chemoprevention studies utilizing calcium have now progressed from basic measurements to clinical trials. Calcium's effects on epithelial cells have demonstrated decreased proliferation and induced cell differentiation with increasing levels of calcium in vitro, similar in vivo effects in rodent and human colon, and decreased carcinogen-induced colonic tumor formation in rodents. Current studies are attempting to inhibit colonic adenoma formation in human subjects. Most but not all epidemiologic studies also link increased dietary calcium with a decreased risk of colon cancer. In animal models, supplemental dietary calcium has decreased mammary epithelial cell hyperplasia and hyperproliferation and colonic cell hyperproliferation when the latter was induced by bile acids, fatty acids, and partial resection of the small intestine. Supplemental dietary calcium also decreased carcinogen-induced colonic tumors in several rodent models. In normal mice, and in mice carrying a targeted apc gene mutation, we recently increased colonic polypoid hyperplasias by a Western-style diet containing low calcium and vitamin D. In human subjects at increased risk for colon cancer, oral calcium supplementation significantly reduced colonic epithelial cell proliferation in most of the studies, including four randomized clinical trials. These studies have now progressed to short-term human clinical trials, including trials that measure the regrowth of transformed adenoma cells. Short-term adenoma-regrowth clinical trials, however, are limited in their ability to measure whether chemopreventive agents inhibit early genotoxic events, abnormal cellular metabolic activities involved in tumor promotion over many years, or the progression of adenoma cells to carcinoma.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenoma / epidemiology
  • Adenoma / prevention & control
  • Animals
  • Anticarcinogenic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Calcium / therapeutic use*
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Risk Factors
  • Rodentia
  • Vitamin D / therapeutic use*


  • Anticarcinogenic Agents
  • Vitamin D
  • Calcium