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Cigs, Booze, Vitamins Can Be Deadly Mix

Beta-Carotene + Smoking + Alcohol May Cause Colon Cancer
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May 20, 2003 -- Popping vitamin pills won't prevent cancer -- not if smoking and boozing are on your agenda. In fact, vitamins may top the "causes of colon cancer" list -- doubling your risk of polyps, if you regularly smoke and drink alcohol.

That finding comes from a new study, published this week in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

A handful of previous studies has pointed to the negative synergy of certain vitamins + smoking + alcohol in increasing risk of lung cancer. But what effect does the deadly mix have on other types of cancer? Is it a cause of colon cancer? That's what this group of researchers analyzed.

Their large study followed 707 people who had had a benign colon polyp, called an adenoma, removed and were polyp free. These polyps can become a cause of colon cancer, depending on their type and size, if not surgically removed.

Half the group was given placebos; half was given vitamins C and E in combination and/or beta-carotene supplements. One year and four years later, each saw their doctor for an examination to check for a recurrence of polyps in the colon. The patients gave their history of tobacco and alcohol use.

Those people taking beta-carotene -- and who didn't smoke or drink -- had a marked decrease in risk of one or more polyps, reports lead researcher John A. Baron, MD, of the Dartmouth Medical School in Lebanon, N.H. They found that the risks of a recurrence of a polyp in the colon was reduced by more than 40%.

However, in those who smoked or drank alcohol -- and took beta-carotene -- there was a modest increase in the recurrence of a polyp. For those who smoked and drank more than one alcoholic drink per day, beta-carotene doubled the risk of polyp recurrence.

More study is needed to determine whether any truly "significant adverse effects can be reliably detected" from the combination of beta-carotene, smoking, and alcohol as a cause of colon cancer, writes oncologist Bernard Levin, MD, of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, in an editorial.

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