Breast Cancer Mortality: Multivitamin and Mineral Use

Dr. S. Wassertheil-Smoller PhD Distinguished University Professor Emerita Department of Epidemiology & Population Health Principal Investigator, Women's Health Initiative Albert Einstein College of Medicine | 1300 Morris Park Avenue Bronx, NY 10461MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Dr. S. Wassertheil-Smoller PhD
Distinguished University Professor Emerita
Department of Epidemiology & Population Health
Principal Investigator, Women’s Health Initiative
Albert Einstein College of Medicine |
1300 Morris Park Avenue Bronx, NY 10461


MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings of the study?

Answer: We studied 7728 older women who developed invasive breast cancer during their participation in the Women’s Health Initiative, known as WHI. This study found that women with invasive breast cancer who are users of multivitamin and mineral supplements had a 30% lower risk of dying from their breast cancer compared to non-users. This protective effect was observed to be independent of a large number of factors which affect breast cancer outcomes and which account for differences between users and non-users. The women we studied were ages 50-79 when they started the WHI.

MedicalResearch.com: Were any of the findings unexpected?

Answer: They were somewhat unexpected because in a previous study from the WHI, we found that generally healthy women who were taking multivitamin supplements did not lower their risk of developing either cardiovascular disease or cancer in general. This study was different in that it looked at women who already had breast cancer and asked if the multivitamin/mineral supplements affected their survival.

MedicalResearch.com: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Answer: It appears that the multivitamin/mineral supplements are safe and may be helpful to women who develop invasive breast cancer. It should be noted that we had too few women who started taking the supplements only after they were diagnosed with breast cancer to be able to draw any conclusions. Most of the women were taking the supplements before their diagnosis. Standard multivitamin/mineral supplements usually contain 20-30 vitamins/minerals at RDA doses. Nothing suggests that more is better or that megadoses would help – in fact megadoses may be harmful. Also, the study was on postmenopausal women, so we cannot comment on potential effects in younger women.

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Answer: An observational study such as this is subject to confounding factors, even though we tried to control for the ones we knew about. The “gold standard” is a clinical trial in which women would be randomly assigned to take these supplements or a placebo. It would have to be very thoughtfully designed.

Citation:

S. Wassertheil-Smoller, A. P. McGinn, N. Budrys, R. Chlebowski, G. Y. Ho, K. C. Johnson, D. S. Lane, W. Li, M. L. Neuhouser, J. Saquib, J. M. Shikany, Y. Song, C. Thomson. Multivitamin and mineral use and breast cancer mortality in older women with invasive breast cancer in the women’s health initiative. Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, 2013; DOI: 10.1007/s10549-013-2712-x