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Vitamin pills can increase cancer risk: study

TT/The Local · 9 Apr 2010, 07:01

Published: 09 Apr 2010 07:01 GMT+02:00

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"Even if we do not know whether there is a causal link, our results are an alarm signal which must be taken seriously and researched further," said Susanna Larsson at Karolinska Institutet to Uppsala Nya Tidning.

35,000 women in Uppsala and Västmanland county took part in the study which has been published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

None of the women had cancer when the study was launched at the end of the 1990s; during the following ten years 974 contracted the condition.

When researchers looked at those afflicted it was found that the women who consumed multivitamin pills were over-represented. Among the women taking at least seven vitamin pills per week, the risk of contracting breast cancer increased by 19 percent in comparison with those who did not take vitamins at all.

Story continues below…

"There are studies which show that women who eat multivitamin pills get firmer breasts than other women. And firmer breasts are a known risk factor for breast cancer," said Larsson.

TT/The Local (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

07:37 April 9, 2010 by gclass
Can't be the vitamins. Probably same women had more mammograms than usual and had their lymph glands squashed.
08:07 April 9, 2010 by Luckystrike
Anything we consume these days seems to have a " Risk Factor"
08:29 April 9, 2010 by Legatus_Legionis
Could it be the case that women who took vitamins more often did so because they were/felt weaker due to various factors? Obviously, the same factors that made them feel the need to take vitamins might have caused the cancer outbreak later on..
08:53 April 9, 2010 by gclass
It just said they took a daily multivitamin. Multivitamins contain just trace amounts. I've studied vitamins and it takes hundreds or thousands of times the recommended dose to cause problems. Half the vitamins are water soluble meaning they stay in the body for just 24 hours. The real title of the article should have been people who take multivitamins live longer and are more costly to the state due to retirement payments and so on.

This article is dangerous do to the fact that some people my stop taking their vitamins after reading it.
09:36 April 9, 2010 by Baned
What a horrible article. The headline itself is an example of irresponsible journalism. Nothing was proven - the headline shouldn't read a fact.

I don't understand why the simple fact of age wasn't factored into all of this. 10 years later ... and that makes them exactly how old now?

I don't see how this article can help anyone by the way it's written. It discourages people that need vitamins from taking it and anyone contemplating on taking them to not take them. Before everyone's quick to respond to "just eat healthy" - keep in mind that is very difficult and close to impossible depending on occupation, lifestyle, and health condition.
10:12 April 9, 2010 by procrustes
Deep thought: Living causes death.

These kind of articles are worse than useless, they're dangerous. Without a good working knowledge of statistics, this kind of data is meaningless, and few people have good working statistics knowledge.

Irresponsible journalism, Local!
10:29 April 9, 2010 by AndreaGerak
It looks like the official cancer politics must fight harder and harder to keep their positions when people start to recognize that Dollar millions and millions a year are not needed to find a "miracle cure" for the "dreadful disease" - because the reasons for cancer are already known since a while, along with inexpensive treatments.

I thought I would wait with my blog post Cancer Research: Forward Or Backward?, about things that Cancerfonden and other cancer institutes would like to remain hidden, but here it is.

BTW folks, don't beat The Local too hard, they simply translated the news from the Uppsala paper from here, only leaving out the end.

My blog:

Stuck in Stockholm
10:40 April 9, 2010 by Alannah
Everything seems to be bad for the body these days so the solution many say is "Everything in moderation". I hope this doesn't mean that Swedish pharmacies will now stop stocking multivitamin pills because they could be "unhealthy". Let consumers choose and think for themselves. It's already bad enough that you can't buy normal things like Lemsip or Tampax in Sweden!
11:17 April 9, 2010 by Argentox
OMG! We shouldn´t call this as "study". It´s just a sligthly guess from a who ever mind. A vitamin is an organic compound required as a nutrient in tiny amounts by an organism. Vitamins are essential for the normal growth and development of a multicellular organism. Because human bodies do not store most vitamins, humans must consume them regularly to avoid deficiency. These are facts!
11:59 April 9, 2010 by Audrian
This study is suggesting the existence of a correlation and the probability of cancer being caused by multivitamin. This kind of study cannot deny the possibility of confounders, outside factors influencing study outcome. I will take it to mean that it is indicating a need to do more research!
12:54 April 9, 2010 by Scepticion
So, and the same person (S Larsson) just published a study that shows that taking vitamin B6 reduces risk of colorectal cancer....

14:07 April 9, 2010 by David S
The problem with studies like this is that "multi-vitamin" is not a generic categroy - it can cover a wide variety of products, from those with large amounts of synthetics, which have previously been shown to cause problems, through to those that are based on plant concentrates - ie they're just food in a tablet.

Even within the synthetics there's a wide range of qualities and amounts of particular vitamins. The we get into causality - women who take vitamins may be more likely to exercise - and exercise is actually a free radical risk factor. Heck, perhaps exercising and breasts bouncing causes damage which increases the risk of breast cancer.

Alas journalists are rarely interested in the subtleties of science!
14:08 April 9, 2010 by Nemesis
A suggestion to the people in the Local, which I have made before. Link to original research so that we know what you are talking about.

Is this the paper that the local is referring to? It is only the anstract that is available without paying for it. I hope the local has read fully the full paper, its references and studied all the data, instead of just quoting the abstract.


Multivitamin use and breast cancer incidence in a prospective cohort of Swedish women1,2,3


Susanna C Larsson, Agneta Åkesson, Leif Bergkvist and Alicja Wolk

1 From the Division of Nutritional Epidemiology The National Institute of Environmental Medicine Karolinska Institutet Stockholm Sweden (SCL AÅAW)the Department of SurgeryCentre for Clinical Research Central Hospital Västerås Sweden (LB).

2 Supported by research grants from the Swedish Cancer Foundation and the Swedish Research Council for Infrastructure.

3 Address correspondence to SC Larsson, Division of Nutritional Epidemiology, National Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Box 210, SE-17177 Stockholm, Sweden. E-mail: susanna.larsson@ki.se.


Background: Many women use multivitamins in the belief that these supplements will prevent chronic diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. However, whether the use of multivitamins affects the risk of breast cancer is unclear.

Objective: We prospectively examined the association between multivitamin use and the incidence of invasive breast cancer in the Swedish Mammography Cohort.

Design: In 1997, 35,329 cancer-free women completed a self-administered questionnaire that solicited information on multivitamin use as well as other breast cancer risk factors. Relative risks (RRs) and 95% CIs were calculated by using Cox proportional hazard models and adjusted for breast cancer risk factors.

Results: During a mean follow-up of 9.5 y, 974 women were diagnosed with incident breast cancer. Multivitamin use was associated with a statistically significant increased risk of breast cancer. The multivariable RR of women who reported the use of multivitamins was 1.19 (95% CI: 1.04, 1.37). The association did not differ significantly by hormone receptor status of the breast tumor.

Conclusions: These results suggest that multivitamin use is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. This observed association is of concern and merits further investigation.

Received for publication October 20, 2009. Accepted for publication February 28, 2010.
14:15 April 9, 2010 by janwouter
Maybe those women took the vitamin pills to compensate for eating unhealthy or any other form of an unhealthy lifestyle.
17:14 April 9, 2010 by Scepticion
I actually read the whole thing, there is no age difference issue. In the article the argue the main effect could be from folate. Another point in the article, there is quite a bit of difference between the two groups in terms of postmenopausal hormone use (48.8 vs 57.9). Now, hormone treatment has been linked in other studies to increased breast cancer - that might already be the whole explanation.

Here another article just come out that folate protects against breast cancer:


However, a group of women (about 10%) with a gene difference are affected negatively, they have a higher risk....
02:35 April 11, 2010 by ahanderson
This is meaningless. First of all, the author fails to mention how many women of the 35,000 took multivitamins on regular basis. What if 500 of them took it....it changes the whole picture. I would love for journalist to be more 'investigative' and choose the right information so that the articles make sense. Truly annoying.
12:49 April 11, 2010 by AndreaGerak
Many of these studies are quite random and contradictory to each other.

Let's see if my link goes through this time, a few things about how these researches go: http://www.thelocal.se/blogs/stuckinstockholm/2010/04/09/cancer-research-forward-or-backward/
22:37 April 12, 2010 by frey
it has been know for quite some time that iron supplements are linked to colon cancer and heart disease if you take iron and you do not need it. . the intervening variable point is salient as well. in the usa, fish oil supplements were recently found to be contaminated with pcb's.
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