Chemoprevention of lung cancer: the rise and demise of beta-carotene

Annu Rev Public Health. 1998;19:73-99. doi: 10.1146/annurev.publhealth.19.1.73.


Beta-carotene and retinoids were the most promising agents against common cancers when the National Cancer Institute mounted a substantial program of population-based trials in the early 1980s. Both major lung cancer chemoprevention trials not only showed no benefit, but had significant increases in lung cancer incidence and in cardiovascular and total mortality. A new generation of laboratory research has been stimulated. Rational public health recommendations at this time include: 1. Five-A-Day servings of fruits and vegetables, a doubling of current mean intake; 2. systematic investigation of the covariates of extremes of fruit and vegetable intake; 3. discouragement of beta-carotene supplement use, due to adverse effects in smokers and no evidence of benefit in non-smokers; 4. multilevel research to develop and evaluate candidate chemoprevention agents to prevent lung and other common cancers; and 5. continued priority for smoking prevention, smoking cessation, and avoidance of known carcinogens in the environment.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anticarcinogenic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Chemoprevention / trends*
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Lung Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Smoking Cessation
  • United States
  • Vitamin A / therapeutic use*
  • beta Carotene / therapeutic use*


  • Anticarcinogenic Agents
  • beta Carotene
  • Vitamin A