Researchers at the National cancer Institute want to find out if something as basic as vitamins and mineral supplements could prevent prostate cancer, one of the leading causes of cancer death in men.
Hospitals across the country plan to enroll more than 32,000 healthy men in a study comparing the effects of vitamin E and the mineral selenium against sugar pills to determine if either or both can prevent prostate cancer.
Considering prostate cancer kills 31,000 men every year and 200,000 new cases are diagnosed annually, there is much at stake.
"We don't go into these studies thinking we are going to eliminate 100% of the disease, but even reducing the risk by 25% or 50% would have a major impact on the health of men in this country," says Dr. Leslie Ford, who is with the National Cancer Institute.
Participants in the study, which could take between 12 and 15 years, will receive either a daily dose of 400 milligrams of vitamin E, or 200 micrograms of selenium, or both supplements, or sugar pills. They will have to follow the regimen exactly and visit a study site once every 6 months.
"It's wonderful that they've actually come up with something that they think will really be a preventative measure for prostate cancer," enthuses Everett Dodson, who is participating.
There is optimism based on two smaller studies that showed beneficial results with the supplements, CBS 2s Paul Moniz reports.
In a study testing the effects of Selenium on skin cancer, the mineral did not reduce skin cancer, but it cut the incidence of prostate cancer by more than 60%.
Another study testing the effects of vitamin E on lung cancer found no effect on the lungs but a 32% reduction in prostate cancer cases.
Prostate cancer specialist Mitchell Benson of Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center stresses this much larger study is needed to confirm those results.
"Im cautiously optimistic," he says.
Dr. Benson says he is looking for men aged 55 and older and specifically for black men 50 and older, since they get prostate cancer sooner. Candidates must be in generally good health with no history of prostate cancer or any other type of cancer, excluding skin cancer, in the past 5 years.
Volunteers could be enrolled for as a long as 15 years on a therapy that may not work, but Dr. Benson stresses the supplements carry little risk and he says the results will be closely monitored.
"If we were to find after 6 or 7 years that there were dramatic differences . . . then based on moral guidelines, we would terminate the study early," he says.
If you are interested in joining the study, call (800) 4-CANCER.
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