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February 1995

Emerging Role of β-Carotene and Antioxidant Nutrients in Prevention of Oral Cancer

Author Affiliations

From the Section of Hematology/Oncology, University of Arizona College of Medicine, and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Tucson, Ariz (Dr Garewal); and the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, NY (Dr Schantz).

Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 1995;121(2):141-144. doi:10.1001/archotol.1995.01890020005002

β-carotene and other antioxidant nutrients, such as vitamin E, are well suited for widespread preventive use because they are nontoxic and easily given in supplement form. Intervention trials designed to show a reduction of cancer incidence in the general population are logistically and practically impossible for most types of cancer, including cancer of the oral cavity. Thus evidence for chemoprevention must be indirect, using laboratory and animal models, epidemiologic surveys, and trials showing reversal of premalignant lesions or cancer prevention in high-risk groups. In several animal models, β-carotene and other antioxidant nutrients inhibit oral carcinogenesis. Epidemiologic studies consistently relate low intake of these nutrients with high cancer risk. Smokers have lower beta-carotene levels in plasma and oral mucosal cells than nonsmokers. Eight clinical trials have now shown that β-carotene and vitamin E produce regression of oral leukoplakia, but chemoprevention studies in oral leukoplakia have limitations, which we review. All available evidence supports a significant role for antioxidant nutrients in preventing oral cancer.

(Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 1995;121:141-144)