Vitamin supplements and cancer risk: the epidemiologic evidence

Cancer Causes Control. 1997 Sep;8(5):786-802. doi: 10.1023/a:1018443724293.


This report reviews published epidemiologic research on the associations of vitamin and mineral supplementation with cancer risk. Although the literature on nutrition and cancer is vast, few reports to date have addressed supplemental nutrients directly (seven clinical trials, 16 cohort, and 36 case-control studies). These studies offer insight into effects of nutrients that are distinguishable from effects of other biologically active compounds in foods. Randomized clinical trials have not shown significant protective effects of beta-carotene, but have found protective effects of: alpha-tocopherol against prostate cancer; mixtures of retinol/zinc and beta-carotene/alpha-tocopherol/selenium against stomach cancer; and selenium against total, lung, and prostate cancers. Cohort studies provide little evidence that vitamin supplements are associated with cancer. Case-control studies have reported an inverse association between bladder cancer and vitamin C; oral/pharyngeal cancer and several supplemental vitamins; and several cancers and vitamin E. A randomized clinical trial, a cohort study, and a case-control study have all found inverse associations between colon cancer and vitamin E. Overall, there is modest evidence for protective effects of nutrients from supplements against several cancers. Future studies of supplement use and cancer appear warranted; however, methodologic problems that impair ability to assess supplement use and statistical modeling of the relation between cancer risk and supplement use need attention.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cohort Studies
  • Dietary Supplements / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Risk Factors
  • Trace Elements / adverse effects*
  • Vitamin E / adverse effects
  • Vitamins / adverse effects*
  • beta Carotene / adverse effects*


  • Trace Elements
  • Vitamins
  • beta Carotene
  • Vitamin E