Plasma vitamins C, E, retinol and carotene were measured in 1971-1973 in 2,974 men working in Basel Switzerland. In 1990, the vital status of all participants was assessed. A total of 290 men had died from cancer during the 17 years of follow-up, including 87 with lung cancer, 30 with prostate cancer, 28 with stomach cancer and 22 with colon cancer.
Overall mortality from cancer was associated with low mean plasma levels of carotene (adjusted for cholesterol) and of vitamin C. Lung and stomach cancers were associated with low mean plasma carotene level. After calculation of the relative risk, using the Cox model, with exclusion of mortality during the first 2 years of follow-up, simultaneously low levels of plasma carotene (below quartile I) and lipid-adjusted retinol were related to a significantly increased mortality risk for all cancers and for lung cancer.
Simultaneously, low levels of plasma vitamin C and lipid-adjusted vitamin E also were associated with a significantly increased risk for lung cancer. Additionally, low vitamin E levels in smokers were related to an increased risk for prostate cancer. It is concluded that low plasma levels of the vitamins C, E, retinol and carotene are related to increased risk of subsequent overall and lung-cancer mortality and that low levels of vitamin E in smokers are related to an increased risk of prostate-cancer mortality.