Vitamin E & Cancer Risk
Vitamin E is believed to potentially prevent cell and DNA damage through its antioxidant properties. So far, clinical trials have been disappointing. They have not shown clear benefits for taking Vitamin E when it comes to cancer prevention.
Professionally Reviewed by Charles Li, MD

Key Facts

Vitamin E & Cancer
1. Vitamin E is an antioxidant
Vitamin E is believed to potentially prevent cell and DNA damage through its antioxidant properties.
2. Trials have not shown benefits yet
So far, clinical trials have been disappointing. They have not shown clear benefits for taking Vitamin E when it comes to cancer prevention.
Risks of Vitamin E
In fact, Vitamin E supplements have been shown to increase risk of prostate cancer for men.

Theory Behind Vitamin E & Cancer

Researchers were hopeful that Vitamin E may show benefits for cancer prevention. Vitamin E functions as an antioxidant, and the theory was that it may help prevent some of the DNA damage behind cancer.

How Antioxidants Work: Metabolism and other processes create reactive oxidative species. These powerful forms of oxygen can react with your body. They can damage your DNA, leading to aging. Antioxidants are molecules that stabilize these oxidative species into harmless molecules.

Key Facts
Examples
Antioxidants
Key Facts
How they work

Antioxidants prevent cell damage by counteracting free radicals.

Effect on Disease

Research on Antioxidants and disease prevention has shown mixed results.

Common Sources

Chocolate

Berries & Fruit

Coffee

Antioxidants
Examples
beta-carotene

Your body makes vitamin A with beta-carotene, commonly found in carrots.

Vitamin C

Found in all sorts of fruits, Vitamin C is a very commonly consumed antioxidant.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E can be found in nuts and seeds.

Study 1

Vitamin E for Cancer in Women
For women, Vitamin E supplements have been shown to have no effect in preventing cancer.
Vitamin E & Cancer Study

Vitamin E & Cancer Risk. A study of nearly 40,000 women found that VItamin E had no effect in preventing cancer and no effect in preventing cancer deaths. The rate of cancer was nearly equivalent between women given Vitamin E and women given a placebo: 1437 cases in the vitamin E group and 1428 in the placebo group; RR, 1.01; 95% CI, 0.94-1.08; P = .87. The results were similar for cancer deaths: 636 in the vitamin E group and 615 in the placebo group; RR, 1.04; 95% CI, 0.93-1.16; P = .53

Data Source

"The data from this large trial indicated that 600 IU of natural-source vitamin E taken every other day provided no overall benefit for major cardiovascular events or cancer, did not affect total mortality, and decreased cardiovascular mortality in healthy women. "

Source: Vitamin E in the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease and cancer: the Women's Health Study: a randomized controlled trial

Study 2

Vitamin E & Prostate Cancer
Men who are at a particularly high risk of prostate cancer have been shown to
Vitamin E & Prostate Cancer Risk

A study of 35,533 men found that Vitamin E may increase the risk of prostate cancer. Participants were given selenium, 400 IU/d of vitamin E, both, or a placebo, for 7-12 years. Researchers found that those who were given Vitamin E had a significantly higher risk of developing prostate cancer.

Data Source

"Dietary supplementation with vitamin E significantly increased the risk of prostate cancer among healthy men."

Source: Vitamin E and the risk of prostate cancer: the Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT)
Vitamin E & Mortality Risk

A meta-analysis that studied 19 clinical trials covering 135,967 participants found that Vitamin E supplements may be linked to higher mortality. 9/11 trials showed a higher risk of death with Vitamin E supplements. This effect was found to be highly significant, P = 0.035 for high dose Vitamin E supplements.

Our Take
While the science behind Vitamin E appears sound, clinical studies have not shown convincing evidence that taking Vitamin E for cancer prevention is a good idea. It's still possible that it may help certain groups of people, but we will need more research before we know for sure.

More Info

Can Antioxidants Prevent Cancer?

"In laboratory and animal studies, the presence of increased levels of exogenous antioxidants has been shown to prevent the types of free radical damage that have been associated with cancer development. Therefore, researchers have investigated whether taking dietary antioxidant supplements can help lower the risk of developing or dying from cancer in humans. "

How to prevent cancer

"The good news, though, is that when all this evidence is looked at together, eight simple tips rise to the surface. These include things like, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, and avoiding tobacco. "

What else does vitamin E do?

"In addition to its activities as an antioxidant, vitamin E is involved in immune function and, as shown primarily by in vitro studies of cells, cell signaling, regulation of gene expression, and other metabolic processes"