Drugs for preventing lung cancer in healthy people

Magali Caraballoso, Montse Sacristan, Consol Serra, Xavier Bonfill Cosp

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Background: Some studies have suggested a protective effect of antioxidant nutrients on lung cancer. Observational epidemiological studies suggest an association between higher dietary levels of fruits and vegetables containing beta carotene and a lower risk of lung cancer. Objectives: To determine whether vitamins, minerals and other potential agents, alone or in combination, reduce incidence and mortality from lung cancer in healthy people. Search strategy: The electronic databases MEDLINE (1966-july 2001), EMBASE (1974-july 2001) and the Cochrane Controlled Trial Register (CENTRAL, Issue 3/2001) and bibliographies were searched. In addition authors of included studies were contacted to identify potentially eligible published and unpublished trials. Selection criteria: Included studies were randomised controlled clinical trials comparing different supplements or comparing supplements with placebo, administered to healthy people with the aim of preventing lung cancer. Data collection and analysis: Three authors independently selected the trials to be included in the review and assessed the methodological quality of each trial, and two extracted data using a standardised form. For each study, relative risk and 95% confidence limits were calculated for dichotomous outcomes. Main results: Four studies were eligible for inclusion. All were population based trials, including a total of 109,394 participants. Two studies included smokers, one included workers exposed to asbestos and two studies were carried out in health professionals. A group of participants with no known risk factors for lung cancer was included in the study sample of two trials. Beta-carotene was evaluated in all trials, alone or combination with alpha-tocopherol or retinol, and one study tested alpha-tocopherol alone. Duration of treatment varied from 2 to 12 years and follow-up was from two to five years. All trials had a placebo group. For people with risk factors for lung cancer no reduction in lung cancer incidence or mortality was found in those taking vitamins alone compared with placebo (incidence of lung cancer: RR 0.98, 95% CI 0.81-1.19; lung cancer mortality: RR 0.93, 95% CI 0.73-1.19). For people with no known risk factors of lung cancer, none of the vitamins or their combinations appeared to have any effect. Combined data from three studies showed a non-statistically significant increased risk of lung cancer incidence (RR 1.11, 95% CI 0.94-1.33) and mortality (RR 1.05, 95% CI 0.87-1.28) for beta-carotene alone at pharmacological doses in groups with risk factors for lung cancer. When beta-carotene was combined with retinol, data from a single study showed that there was a statistically significant, increased risk of lung cancer incidence (RR 1.42, 95% CI 1.13-1.80) and mortality (RR 1.75, 95% CI 1.29-2.38) in people with risk factors for lung cancer who took both vitamins compared with those who took placebo. Data from also from one study showed that the combination of beta-carotene with alpha-tocopherol in people with risk factors for lung cancer was associated with a non-statistically significant increased risk of lung cancer incidence (RR 1.16, 95% CI 0.96-1.39) and mortality (RR 1.15, 95% CI 0.91-1.45). No effect was observed for total cancer incidence, mortality or all-cause mortality. Authors' conclusions: There is currently no evidence to support recommending vitamins such as alpha-tocopherol, beta-carotene or retinol, alone or in combination, to prevent lung cancer. A harmful effect was found for beta-carotene with retinol at pharmacological doses in people with risk factors for lung cancer (smoking and/or occupational exposure to asbestos). More research from larger trials and with longer follow-up is needed to analyse the effectiveness of other supplements. Copyright © 2009 The Cochrane Collaboration. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberCD002141
JournalCochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2009


  • Alpha-tocopherol [therapeutic use]
  • Beta carotene [therapeutic use]
  • Dietary supplements
  • Health status
  • Humans
  • Lung neoplasms [*prevention & control]
  • Minerals [*therapeutic use]
  • Randomized controlled trials as topic
  • Vitamin A [therapeutic use]
  • Vitamins [*therapeutic use]

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