Folic acid may increase breast cancer risk

December 15, 2004 in Cancer Prevention, Nutrition Topics in the News, Vitamins, Minerals, Supplements, Women's Health

Folic acid may increase breast cancer risk

Researchers in the UK report a possible increase in the risk of developing breast cancer among women who take folic acid supplements while pregnant. However, the senior investigator from the University of Bristol stressed that it is important that we don't confuse women about the need to take folic acid supplements early in pregnancy.

Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate, a B vitamin found in green leafy vegetables, fruits and dried beans and lentils. Research has shown that taking the supplements before conceiving and early in pregnancy dramatically reduces the risk of birth defects such as spina bifida that affect the brain and spinal cord.

The current concerns come from a study, published in the British Medical Journal, involving nearly 3,000 pregnant women who randomly assigned to take a high or low dose of folic acid, or an inactive placebo, between 1966 and 1967.  By 2002, a total of 210 women had died, with 40 deaths attributed to cardiovascular disease, 112 to cancer, and 31 specifically to breast cancer. There were 17 deaths from breast cancer in the placebo group (0.9 percent), six among those assigned to low-dose folic acid (1.3 percent), and eight among those given high-dose folic acid (1.6 percent).

However, after accounting for demographics, smoking, weight and blood pressure, none of the differences between groups were significant from a statistical standpoint.

The researchers report that it is entirely possible that this is a chance or fluke finding -- so further scientific studies are required to examine the association, if there is one, before we reach any conclusions.

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