A Nested Case–Control Study on Plasma Vitamin E and Risk of Cancer: Evidence of Effect Modification by Selenium

Jiancheng Wang, Huiyuan Guo, Tengfei Lin, Yun Song, Hao Zhang, Binyan Wang, Yan Zhang, Jianping Li, Yong Huo, Xiaobin Wang, Xianhui Qin, Xiping Xu

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Background: Evidence from epidemiologic studies has been inconsistent regarding the role of vitamin E in cancer incidence risk. Objective: The aim of this study was to evaluate the prospective association between baseline plasma vitamin E levels and subsequent cancer risk in Chinese adults with hypertension, and to identify effect modifiers. Design: A nested, case–control study was conducted from 20,702 hypertensive participants in the China Stroke Primary Prevention Trial, a randomized, double-blind, controlled trial, conducted from May 2008 to August 2013. Participants: The current study included 229 new cancer cases and 229 controls matched for age (±1 year), sex, treatment group, and study site. Main outcome measures: Plasma vitamin E was measured by liquid chromatography with tandem quadrupole mass spectrometers and plasma selenium was measured by inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry using Thermo Fisher iCAP Q ICP-MS. Statistical analyses: Odds ratios (OR) of cancer in relation to plasma concentrations of vitamin E were calculated using conditional logistic regression models. Results: Median follow-up duration was 4.5 years. Overall, vitamin E was not associated with subsequent risk of total cancer (per 1-mg/L [2.3 μmol/L] increase: OR 1.01, 95% CI 0.93 to 1.09) and non-gastrointestinal cancer (OR 1.10, 95% CI 0.98 to 1.24). However, there was a significant, inverse association between vitamin E and gastrointestinal cancer (OR 0.86, 95% CI 0.75 to 0.99), particularly esophageal cancer (OR 0.67, 95% CI 0.48 to 0.95). Moreover, high vitamin E decreased the risk of total cancer (OR 0.91, 95% CI 0.84 to 0.99) and gastrointestinal cancer (OR 0.83, 95% CI 0.73 to 0.95) among patients with high selenium levels (median≥83.7 μg/L [1.1 μmol/L]), and increased the risk of total cancer (OR 1.13, 95% CI 1.00 to 1.26) and non-gastrointestinal cancer (OR 1.25, 95% CI 1.03 to 1.50) among those with low selenium levels (<83.7 μg/L [1.1 μmol/L]). Conclusions: This study suggests that higher levels of plasma vitamin E are associated with reduced risk of gastrointestinal cancer. High vitamin E decreased the risk of total cancer among patients with high selenium levels, but increased the risk of total cancer among those with low selenium levels.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)769-781
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2019



  • Antioxidant
  • Cancer incidence
  • Hypertension
  • Selenium
  • Vitamin E

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Nutrition and Dietetics

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