Background: Epidemiologic studies have suggested that vitamin E and beta-carotene may each influence the development of prostate cancer. In the Alpha-Tocopherol, Beta-Carotene Cancer Prevention Study, a controlled trial, we studied the effect of alpha-tocopherol (a form of vitamin E) and beta-carotene supplementation, separately or together, on prostate cancer in male smokers.
Methods: A total of 29133 male smokers aged 50-69 years from southwestern Finland were randomly assigned to receive alpha-tocopherol (50 mg), beta-carotene (20 mg), both agents, or placebo daily for 5-8 years (median, 6.1 years). The supplementation effects were estimated by a proportional hazards model, and two-sided P values were calculated.
Results: We found 246 new cases of and 62 deaths from prostate cancer during the follow-up period. A 32% decrease (95% confidence interval [CI] = -47% to -12%) in the incidence of prostate cancer was observed among the subjects receiving alpha-tocopherol (n = 14564) compared with those not receiving it (n = 14569). The reduction was evident in clinical prostate cancer but not in latent cancer. Mortality from prostate cancer was 41% lower (95% CI = -65% to -1%) among men receiving alpha-tocopherol. Among subjects receiving beta-carotene (n = 14560), prostate cancer incidence was 23% higher (95% CI = -4%-59%) and mortality was 15% higher (95% CI = -30%-89%) compared with those not receiving it (n = 14573). Neither agent had any effect on the time interval between diagnosis and death.
Conclusions: Long-term supplementation with alpha-tocopherol substantially reduced prostate cancer incidence and mortality in male smokers. Other controlled trials are required to confirm the findings.