Folic Acid Supplementation May Have Role in Cancer Prevention

Folic Acid Supplementation May Have Role in Cancer Prevention

According to the results of a phase II clinical trial conducted in Italy, supplementation with folic acid resulted in the complete disappearance of precancerous changes to the larynx in 28% of patients and partial disappearance of precancerous changes to the larynx in 44% of patients. These results were published in the journal Cancer .

Approximately 40,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with head and neck cancer every year. Cancers of the head and neck include several types of cancers affecting the nasal cavity and sinuses, oral cavity, nasopharynx (upper part of throat, behind ear), oropharynx (middle part of throat, including soft palate, base of tongue, and tonsils), larynx, and other sites throughout the head and neck.

Laryngeal leucoplakia refers to precancerous changes to the larynx. The larynx is the area of the throat that contains the vocal cords. It aids in talking, swallowing, and breathing and is sometimes referred to as the voice box. If untreated, laryngeal leucoplakia can progress to laryngeal cancer.

Folate is a water-soluble B vitamin found in fresh fruits and vegetables. Folate, or supplementation with its synthetic form-folic acid-has been thought to play a role in cancer prevention. If confirmed, this would be an important finding since many people in the U.S. are folate deficient. Furthermore, folic acid supplementation is believed to be safe and non-toxic.

To evaluate the potential role of folic acid supplementation in the prevention of head and neck cancers, researchers in Italy conducted a phase II clinical trial among 43 patients with laryngeal leucoplakia. Patients received 5 mg of folic acid three times a day for six months.

  • Laryngeal leucoplakia disappeared completely in 28% of patients and disappeared partially in 44% of patients. Twenty-eight percent of patients had no response to folic acid supplementation.
  • Patients who had low folate levels at the start of the study were the most likely to respond to folic acid supplementation.

The researchers conclude that folic acid supplementation may reduce the risk of cancer progression, particularly in patients with folate deficiency. The researchers are now planning to conduct a clinical trial to assess whether folic acid supplementation can reduce the risk of recurrence among patients treated for laryngeal leucoplakia.

Reference: Aldmadori G, Bussu F, Navarra P et al. Pilot Phase IIA Study for Evaluation of the Efficacy of Folic Acid in the Treatment of Laryngeal Leucoplakia. Cancer. 2006; Early Online Publication June 12, 20.

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