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Posted: December 16, 2008

Contrary to Earlier Belief, Vitamins Don't Cut Prostate Cancer Risk

In perhaps the largest cancer chemo-prevention trial ever conducted, researchers have found that taking vitamin E or selenium, alone or in combination, was not associated with a lower risk of prostate cancer or other cancers.

The study is being published the January 7 issue of JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association, but because of its public health implications, the findings were released early online.


While the number of prostate cancer deaths in the United States has declined in recent years, this cancer remains one of the most common malignancies in US men, with approximately 186,000 new cases and 29,000 deaths estimated for 2008. An effective prevention strategy for prostate cancer would have substantial public health benefits, hence the early release of this study’s findings.


Previous studies have indicated the potential of selenium and vitamin E for preventing prostate cancer, but the latest trial casts doubt on those findings.


Researchers from the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine in Cleveland, conducted the Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (known as SELECT) to examine the effects of selenium and vitamin E, alone or in combination, on the risk of prostate cancer and other health outcomes in relatively healthy men.


The trial included 35,533 men, age 50 years or older for black men and age 55 years or older men of other races at the start of the study, all of them from the United States. The men were randomly assigned to receive one of four interventions between August 2001 and June 2004 for a planned minimum follow-up of seven years; the interventions were selenium (200 μg/day), vitamin E (400 IU/day), selenium plus vitamin E, or placebo.


On September 15, 2008, the independent data and safety monitoring committee recommended the discontinuation of study supplements because the alternative hypothesis of no evidence of benefit from either study agent was convincingly demonstrated and there was no possibility of a benefit to the planned degree with an additional follow-up.


The researchers found that there were no statistically significant differences in the absolute numbers (or 5-year incidence rates) of prostate cancer diagnoses between the four groups, which were: placebo, 416 cases; selenium, 432 cases; vitamin E, 473 cases; and selenium plus vitamin E, 437 cases.


There were insignificant increased risks of prostate cancer in the vitamin E group and type 2 diabetes mellitus in the selenium group, but not in the selenium plus vitamin E group.


"In conclusion, SELECT has definitively demonstrated that selenium, vitamin E, or selenium plus vitamin E (at the tested doses and formulations) did not prevent prostate cancer in the generally healthy, heterogeneous population of men in SELECT," the authors write. "These data underscore the prudence that is needed in considering recommendations to use agents for the prevention or control of disease in the absence of convincing clinical trial results. These findings also compel the medical research community to continue the search for new, effective agents for prostate cancer prevention."


(Article courtesy of

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