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Vitamin supplement may help prevent prostate cancer

prostate.cancer May 19, 1997
Web posted at: 2:35 p.m. EDT (1835 GMT)

From Reporter Liz Weiss

BOSTON (CNN) -- Taking beta carotene supplements may lower the risk of prostate cancer in some men, according to early results from an ongoing study of more than 22,000 men who took either beta carotene or a placebo for 12 years.

"Those assigned to beta carotene supplements over the course of the trial had 36 percent fewer prostate cancers develop," said Dr. Charles H. Hennekens of Brigham & Women's Hospital in Boston.


The men who took the supplement and showed the most benefit were those who had low levels of the vitamin present in their blood to begin with.

"The possibility is raised that those who have low blood levels through poor nutrition might benefit from beta carotene supplements," said Hennekens. "That's a research question we need to answer."

Food rich in beta carotene include carrots, spinach and other dark green vegetables. This study used beta carotene supplements rather than food.


While the researchers say the finding on beta carotene and prostate cancer is intriguing, they're by no means in a position right now to recommend beta carotene supplements to the public.

What experts do suggest for cancer prevention in general is a diet low in fat, especially saturated fat, and one rich in fruits and vegetables.

"The benefits from the healthier diet are far larger and more apparent," said Hennekens. "The benefits from supplements are somewhat smaller and not yet proven beyond a reasonable doubt."

An earlier study of poorly nourished people in rural China found supplementation with beta carotene lowered the risk of stomach cancer. That, plus this new study, may ultimately show that beta carotene supplements could be helpful in the prevention of prostate cancer for those who don't eat right.

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