Vitamin E supplements and the risk of lung cancer

A recent review of the medical literature revealed that except for prostate cancer, there was no evidence that vitamin E could protect from getting lung, stomach, esophageal, pancreatic, breast, or thyroid cancer.

Now, this study by researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle reports negative news for the vitamin E supplements and lung cancer.

First, the details.

  • 77,721 adults aged 50–76 years participated in the Washington State VITAL (VITamins And Lifestyle) study.
  • Their rate of developing lung cancer over 4 years was evaluated in light of current and past vitamin use, smoking, and other demographic and medical characteristics.

And, the results.

  • 521 developed lung cancer.
  • There was a slight but significant association between the use of supplemental vitamin E and lung cancer.

The bottom line?
The authors calculated that the risk translated to a “28% increased risk of lung cancer at a dose of 400 mg/day for 10 years.” The increased risk was most prominent in current smokers.

The idea that vitamin supplements are healthy, or at the very least, do no harm, comes from the desire of many people to mimic the benefits of a healthy diet with a convenient pill, said Dr. Tim Byers of the University of Colorado School of Medicine in a NewsWise article.

However, he points out, “fruits contain not only vitamins but also many hundreds of other phytochemical compounds whose functions are not well understood.”

It seems that the key phrase for any of these large population-based studies is “not well understood.”

3/3/08 18:02 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.