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      Effects of a Combination of Beta Carotene and Vitamin A on Lung Cancer and Cardiovascular Disease

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          Abstract

          Lung cancer and cardiovascular disease are major causes of death in the United States. It has been proposed that carotenoids and retinoids are agents that may prevent these disorders. We conducted a multicenter, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled primary prevention trial -- the Beta Carotene and Retinol Efficacy Trial -- involving a total of 18,314 smokers, former smokers, and workers exposed to asbestos. The effects of a combination of 30 mg of beta carotene per day and 25,000 IU of retinol (vitamin A) in the form of retinyl palmitate per day on the primary end point, the incidence of lung cancer, were compared with those of placebo. A total of 388 new cases of lung cancer were diagnosed during the 73,135 person-years of follow-up (mean length of follow-up, 4.0 years). The active-treatment group had a relative risk of lung cancer of 1.28 (95 percent confidence interval, 1.04 to 1.57; P=0.02), as compared with the placebo group. There were no statistically significant differences in the risks of other types of cancer. In the active-treatment group, the relative risk of death from any cause was 1.17 (95 percent confidence interval, 1.03 to 1.33); of death from lung cancer, 1.46 (95 percent confidence interval, 1.07 to 2.00); and of death from cardiovascular disease, 1.26 (95 percent confidence interval, 0.99 to 1.61). On the basis of these findings, the randomized trial was stopped 21 months earlier than planned; follow-up will continue for another 5 years. After an average of four years of supplementation, the combination of beta carotene and vitamin A had no benefit and may have had an adverse effect on the incidence of lung cancer and on the risk of death from lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, and any cause in smokers and workers exposed to asbestos.

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          Most cited references22

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          Fruit, vegetables, and cancer prevention: a review of the epidemiological evidence.

          Approximately 200 studies that examined the relationship between fruit and vegetable intake and cancers of the lung, colon, breast, cervix, esophagus, oral cavity, stomach, bladder, pancreas, and ovary are reviewed. A statistically significant protective effect of fruit and vegetable consumption was found in 128 of 156 dietary studies in which results were expressed in terms of relative risk. For most cancer sites, persons with low fruit and vegetable intake (at least the lower one-fourth of the population) experience about twice the risk of cancer compared with those with high intake, even after control for potentially confounding factors. For lung cancer, significant protection was found in 24 of 25 studies after control for smoking in most instances. Fruits, in particular, were significantly protective in cancers of the esophagus, oral cavity, and larynx, for which 28 of 29 studies were significant. Strong evidence of a protective effect of fruit and vegetable consumption was seen in cancers of the pancreas and stomach (26 of 30 studies), as well as in colorectal and bladder cancers (23 of 38 studies). For cancers of the cervix, ovary, and endometrium, a significant protective effect was shown in 11 of 13 studies, and for breast cancer a protective effect was found to be strong and consistent in a meta analysis. It would appear that major public health benefits could be achieved by substantially increasing consumption of these foods.
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            Lack of effect of long-term supplementation with beta carotene on the incidence of malignant neoplasms and cardiovascular disease.

            Observational studies suggest that people who consume more fruits and vegetables containing beta carotene have somewhat lower risks of cancer and cardiovascular disease, and earlier basic research suggested plausible mechanisms. Because large randomized trials of long duration were necessary to test this hypothesis directly, we conducted a trial of beta carotene supplementation. In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of beta carotene (50 mg on alternate days), we enrolled 22,071 male physicians, 40 to 84 years of age, in the United States; 11 percent were current smokers and 39 percent were former smokers at the beginning of the study in 1982. By December 31, 1995, the scheduled end of the study, fewer than 1 percent had been lost to follow-up, and compliance was 78 percent in the group that received beta carotene. Among 11,036 physicians randomly assigned to receive beta carotene and 11,035 assigned to receive placebo, there were virtually no early or late differences in the overall incidence of malignant neoplasms or cardiovascular disease, or in overall mortality. In the beta carotene group, 1273 men had any malignant neoplasm (except nonmelanoma skin cancer), as compared with 1293 in the placebo group (relative risk, 0.98; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.91 to 1.06). There were also no significant differences in the number of cases of lung cancer (82 in the beta carotene group vs. 88 in the placebo group); the number of deaths from cancer (386 vs. 380), deaths from any cause (979 vs. 968), or deaths from cardiovascular disease (338 vs. 313); the number of men with myocardial infarction (468 vs. 489); the number with stroke (367 vs. 382); or the number with any one of the previous three end points (967 vs. 972). Among current and former smokers, there were also no significant early or late differences in any of these end points. In this trial among healthy men, 12 years of supplementation with beta carotene produced neither benefit nor harm in terms of the incidence of malignant neoplasms, cardiovascular disease, or death from all causes.
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              The effect of vitamin E and beta carotene on the incidence of lung cancer and other cancers in male smokers. The Alpha-Tocopherol, Beta Carotene Cancer Prevention Study Group.

              Epidemiologic evidence indicates that diets high in carotenoid-rich fruits and vegetables, as well as high serum levels of vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) and beta carotene, are associated with a reduced risk of lung cancer. We performed a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled primary-prevention trial to determine whether daily supplementation with alpha-tocopherol, beta carotene, or both would reduce the incidence of lung cancer and other cancers. A total of 29,133 male smokers 50 to 69 years of age from southwestern Finland were randomly assigned to one of four regimens: alpha-tocopherol (50 mg per day) alone, beta carotene (20 mg per day) alone, both alpha-tocopherol and beta carotene, or placebo. Follow-up continued for five to eight years. Among the 876 new cases of lung cancer diagnosed during the trial, no reduction in incidence was observed among the men who received alpha-tocopherol (change in incidence as compared with those who did not, -2 percent; 95 percent confidence interval, -14 to 12 percent). Unexpectedly, we observed a higher incidence of lung cancer among the men who received beta carotene than among those who did not (change in incidence, 18 percent; 95 percent confidence interval, 3 to 36 percent). We found no evidence of an interaction between alpha-tocopherol and beta carotene with respect to the incidence of lung cancer. Fewer cases of prostate cancer were diagnosed among those who received alpha-tocopherol than among those who did not. Beta carotene had little or no effect on the incidence of cancer other than lung cancer. Alpha-tocopherol had no apparent effect on total mortality, although more deaths from hemorrhagic stroke were observed among the men who received this supplement than among those who did not. Total mortality was 8 percent higher (95 percent confidence interval, 1 to 16 percent) among the participants who received beta carotene than among those who did not, primarily because there were more deaths from lung cancer and ischemic heart disease. We found no reduction in the incidence of lung cancer among male smokers after five to eight years of dietary supplementation with alpha-tocopherol or beta carotene. In fact, this trial raises the possibility that these supplements may actually have harmful as well as beneficial effects.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                New England Journal of Medicine
                N Engl J Med
                Massachusetts Medical Society
                0028-4793
                1533-4406
                May 02 1996
                May 02 1996
                : 334
                : 18
                : 1150-1155
                Article
                10.1056/NEJM199605023341802
                8602180
                9a75352e-37c3-4074-9ed6-79764b70d502
                © 1996
                History

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