Epidemiologic studies of antioxidants and cancer in humans

Elaine W. Flagg, Ralph J. Coates, Raymond S. Greenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

107 Scopus citations


To assess whether antioxidants may reduce the risk of cancer, we reviewed the epidemiologic literature from 1985 through 1993. We assessed the separate relationships of three antioxidants (carotenoids, vitamin C, and vitamin E) with six sites of cancer (lung, upper aerodigestive tract, uterine cervix, colon, breast, prostate). This review was limited to dietary intake or serum nutrient studies that met a predefined set of methodologic standards. We judged the evidence in support of causal relationships based upon consistency of results across studies, strength of association, and evidence of a dose-response relationship. The data concerning carotenoids and lung cancer risk were most consistent (protection found in 4 of 8 diet studies and 5 of 6 serum studies), with strong associations that tended to follow a dose-response pattern. For lung cancer, there was weaker evidence of protection from vitamin C (2 of 6 diet studies) and vitamin E (3 of 4 serum studies). For upper aerodigestive tract cancers (oral cavity, pharynx, or larynx), there was evidence of a protective effect of carotenoids (3 of 4 diet studies) and vitamin C (4 of 5 diet studies). For cancer of the uterine cervix, we found suggestive evidence of protection from vitamin C (4 of 5 diet studies) and perhaps carotenoids (2 of 5 diet studies). For cancers of the colon, breast, and prostate, the current data do not support a protective effect of antioxidants. More definite conclusions about the benefits of antioxidants in cancer prevention will be derived from on-going intervention trials.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)419-427
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the American College of Nutrition
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1 1995
Externally publishedYes


  • Antioxidant
  • Breast neoplasms
  • Cancer
  • Carotenoids
  • Colonic neoplasms
  • Lung neoplasms
  • Mouth neoplasms
  • Pharyngeal neoplasms
  • Prostatic neoplasms
  • Uterine cervical neoplasms
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin E

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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