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Dietary vitamin C intake could reduce risk of head and neck cancer

MAASTRICHT, Netherlands: Researchers at Maastricht University Medical Center+ have found that vitamin C derived from consuming fruits and vegetables can significantly reduce the risk of developing head and neck cancer. This effect is greatest on oral cavity cancer. The study also suggests that vitamin E may help to prevent this type of cancer too.

Head and neck cancer is the seventh most common cancer worldwide and with more than 1,000 new cases per year, oral cavity cancer is the most common type of head and neck cancer in the Netherlands. While this form of cancer is more common in men than in women, the number of new cases among women is increasing each year. In just ten years, the number of women diagnosed with oral cavity cancer has increased by more than 45 per cent, compared with 16 per cent in men.

The study analysed data from the Netherlands Cohort Study, which tracked more than 120,000 Dutch citizens between the age of 55 and 69 from 1986 to 2015. In addition to examining the link between the consumption of fruits and vegetables and different types of head and neck cancer, the researchers studied the role of specific nutrients.

Among other things, the study found that a higher intake of vitamin C-rich foods reduced the risk of developing oral cavity cancer and other forms of head and neck cancer. The results also suggest that vitamin E may play a role in preventing the development of this type of cancer. These results apply to vitamins obtained through foods, not supplements.

“This study allowed us to contribute to the scientific body of evidence that link the consumption of fruits and vegetables to the risk of developing different forms of head and neck cancer, including oral cavity cancer,” said Dr Leo Schouten, Associate Professor of Cancer Epidemiology. “Further research is needed before we can understand the mechanisms behind this connection, but the findings offer hope for preventing these types of cancers.”

“The lifestyle choices we make are important for preventing cancer,” stated Nadia Ameyah, Director of the Dutch World Cancer Research Fund, which funded the study. “Scientists estimate that most cases of mouth, throat and larynx cancer in the Western world can be prevented by not smoking, abstaining from alcohol and eating a healthy diet. Unfortunately, few Dutch people consume the recommended daily intake of fruits and vegetables.”

The study, titled “Vitamin and carotenoid intake and risk of head-neck cancer subtypes in the Netherlands Cohort Study”, was published online in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition on 8 July.
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