Beta-carotene assoc. with higher risk of some cancers in women smokers but not nonsmokers

September 20, 2005

A new study of French women has found that high beta-carotene intake--through a combination of diet or supplementation--is associated with a higher risk of tobacco-related cancers in smokers, but the risk of these cancers decreases with increasing beta-carotene intake in nonsmokers. The study appears in the September 21 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Some observational studies have found that beta-carotene consumption is associated with a decreased risk of cancer. However, some intervention studies have suggested that high doses of the antioxidant, given through supplementation, may be associated with an increased risk of lung cancer and digestive cancers in smokers.

To investigate the relationships of beta-carotene intake from both diet and supplementation with the risk of tobacco-related cancers--which include colorectal, thyroid, ovarian, cervical, and lung cancers in addition to less common cancers--Marie-Christine Boutron-Ruault, M.D., Ph.D., of INSERM in Villejuif, France, and colleagues used information from questionnaires given in 1994 to nearly 60,000 women from the French Etude Epidémiologique de Femmes de la Mutuelle Générale de l'Education Nationale (E3N) prospective study. The researchers assessed diet, supplement use, and smoking status in these women and followed them for a median of 7.4 years.

During the follow-up period, 700 women developed a type of cancer known to be related to smoking. Among women who never smoked, beta-carotene intake was inversely associated with the risk of developing a tobacco-related cancer, with a dose-dependent relationship across the considered beta-carotene categories (tertiles of dietary beta-carotene, and supplement use as the fourth category). However, among women who had ever smoked, the results were reversed: cancer risk was highest among women in the high beta-carotene intake group.

In the population studied, the authors calculated that the absolute rates of tobacco-related cancers over 10 years for nonsmokers with low and high beta-carotene intakes were 181.8 and 81.7 cases per 10,000 women, respectively. Among smokers, these rates were 174.0 cases per 10,000 women for those who had low beta-carotene intake and 368.3 cases per 10,000 women for those who had high intake.

"Although beta-carotene may act as a cocarcinogen, there is no evidence that smokers should avoid consuming beta-carotene-rich foods such as fruit and vegetables, in which other components, such as vitamins C and E, may counteract a potentially deleterious interaction of beta-carotene with smoking," the authors write.

In an editorial, Susan T. Mayne, Ph.D., of the Yale University School of Medicine and Yale Cancer Center in New Haven, Conn., and Scott M. Lippman, M.D., of the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, write that "evidence suggesting that tobacco exposure modifies the chemopreventive efficacy of nutrients/nutrient derivatives continues to mount." However, this new research "should not alter our current policy recommendations with regard to nutrients and cancer risk. Rather, this new research emphasizes the need to examine current, former, and never smokers separately in studies of nutrient supplements and other preventive agent classes in a wide spectrum of cancer prevention settings," they write.
  • Article: Séverine Ciancia, INSERM communications/media office,,
  • Editorial: Alison Ruffin, Public Affairs, M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, 713-794-1731,

  • Article: Touvier M, Kesse E, Clavel-Chapelon F, Boutron-Ruault M-C. Dual Association of Beta-Carotene With Risk of Tobacco-Related Cancers in a Cohort of French Women. J Natl Cancer Inst 2005;97:1338-44.
  • Citation: Mayne ST, Lippman SM. Cigarettes: A Smoking Gun in Cancer Chemoprevention. J Natl Cancer Inst 2005;97:1319-21.

    Note: The Journal of the National Cancer Institute is published by Oxford University Press and is not affiliated with the National Cancer Institute. Attribution to the Journal of the National Cancer Institute is requested in all news coverage. Visit the Journal online at

    Journal of the National Cancer Institute

    Related Cancer Articles from Brightsurf:

    New blood cancer treatment works by selectively interfering with cancer cell signalling
    University of Alberta scientists have identified the mechanism of action behind a new type of precision cancer drug for blood cancers that is set for human trials, according to research published in Nature Communications.

    UCI researchers uncover cancer cell vulnerabilities; may lead to better cancer therapies
    A new University of California, Irvine-led study reveals a protein responsible for genetic changes resulting in a variety of cancers, may also be the key to more effective, targeted cancer therapy.

    Breast cancer treatment costs highest among young women with metastic cancer
    In a fight for their lives, young women, age 18-44, spend double the amount of older women to survive metastatic breast cancer, according to a large statewide study by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

    Cancer mortality continues steady decline, driven by progress against lung cancer
    The cancer death rate declined by 29% from 1991 to 2017, including a 2.2% drop from 2016 to 2017, the largest single-year drop in cancer mortality ever reported.

    Stress in cervical cancer patients associated with higher risk of cancer-specific mortality
    Psychological stress was associated with a higher risk of cancer-specific mortality in women diagnosed with cervical cancer.

    Cancer-sniffing dogs 97% accurate in identifying lung cancer, according to study in JAOA
    The next step will be to further fractionate the samples based on chemical and physical properties, presenting them back to the dogs until the specific biomarkers for each cancer are identified.

    Moffitt Cancer Center researchers identify one way T cell function may fail in cancer
    Moffitt Cancer Center researchers have discovered a mechanism by which one type of immune cell, CD8+ T cells, can become dysfunctional, impeding its ability to seek and kill cancer cells.

    More cancer survivors, fewer cancer specialists point to challenge in meeting care needs
    An aging population, a growing number of cancer survivors, and a projected shortage of cancer care providers will result in a challenge in delivering the care for cancer survivors in the United States if systemic changes are not made.

    New cancer vaccine platform a potential tool for efficacious targeted cancer therapy
    Researchers at the University of Helsinki have discovered a solution in the form of a cancer vaccine platform for improving the efficacy of oncolytic viruses used in cancer treatment.

    American Cancer Society outlines blueprint for cancer control in the 21st century
    The American Cancer Society is outlining its vision for cancer control in the decades ahead in a series of articles that forms the basis of a national cancer control plan.

    Read More: Cancer News and Cancer Current Events
  • is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to