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CHAPEL HILL, NC – As many as 30 percent of Americans take multivitamins in the belief that they will help prevent and treat chronic diseases such as cancer. Among cancer survivors, between 26 and 77 percent report using multivitamins.

Given these significant numbers, a group of researchers, including UNC’s Richard Goldberg, MD, decided to test whether multivitamin use had an impact on cancer outcomes. In a study of patients with stage III colon cancer, they found that using multivitamins neither helped or hurt patient outcomes.

The team used two questionnaires to ask about multivitamin use during and after chemotherapy. Approximately half of the patients used multivitamins during chemotherapy and more than half took multivitamins after chemotherapy. There was no statistically significant difference in survival or recurrence between the group that used multivitamins and the group that did not.

Goldberg, who is Physician-in-chief of the N.C. Cancer Hospital and Associate Director for Clinical Research at UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, said that, while the study didn’t provide the evidence researchers initially sought, it did point out some new avenues for investigation.

“There was some evidence among patients receiving chemotherapy that patients aged 60 and younger and those who were obese did gain some survival benefit, even when controlling for other factors,” he noted.

“There is evidence that other vitamins, taken in larger doses than generally found in multivitamins, may be beneficial and more research is needed,” he added.

The study was reported online in the Journal of Clinical Oncology and was funded in part by the National Cancer Institute and by an American Society of Clinical Oncology Young Investigator Award.

In addition to Goldberg, the other authors are Kimmie Ng, MD, MPH (first author), Charles Fuchs, MD (senior author), Jeffrey A. Meyerhardt, MD, MPH, Jennifer Chan, MD, and Robert J. Mayer, MD, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute; Donna Niedzwiecki, PhD, and Donna R. Hollis, BS, Duke University; Leonard Saltz, MD, Memorial Sloane Kettering Cancer Center; Al B. Benson, III, MD, Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center, Chicago; Paul L. Schaefer, MD, Toledo Community Hospital Oncology Program, Toledo, OH; Renaud Whittom, MD, Hopital du Sacre-Coeur de Montreal; and Alexander Hantel, MD, Edward Cancer Center, Naperville, IL.