DOCTOR'S VIEW ARCHIVE

Vitamin E May Cut The Risk Of Prostate Cancer

PARIS-Vitamin E lowered the incidence of prostate cancer by a third in a large study of smokers in Finland but beta carotene, a form of vitamin A, did not give similar benefit.

Prostate cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in U.S. males. It is estimated that there will be more than 180,000 cases in 1998 along with close to 40,000 deaths. African-American men have the highest rates of prostate cancer in the U.S.

Both vitamin E and beta carotene are anti-oxidants, compounds thought to prevent carcinogens (cancer-causing agents) from damaging the DNA and so setting the stage for cancer.

In the Finnish study, vitamin E was tested in the form of alpha tocopherol. It appeared to protect also against colorectal and lung cancer, but the protection was nowhere as great as against prostate cancer.

The trial, dubbed the Alpha-Tocopherol, Beta-Carotene Cancer Prevention Study (ATBC Study), was carried out by the U.S. National Cancer Institute and the National Public Health Institute of Finland. The report by O.P. Heinonen and colleagues appeared in the March 18, 1998, issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

The ATBC study included some 29 thousand males, all smokers, age 50 to 69. The men were divided into four groups of equal size. One group took beta carotene. Another took vitamin E. Still another took both beta carotene and vitamin E. And the last group merely took a placebo (an inactive pill that looked like these vitamins).