RESEARCH ARTICLE


A Critical Assessment of Epidemiology Studies Regarding Dietary/Supple-mental Zinc and Prostate Cancer Risk



Leslie C. Costello* , 1, Renty B. Franklin 1, Ming T. Tan2
1 Department of Biomedical Sciences/Dental School, and The Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center, University of Maryland, 650 West Baltimore Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21201, USA
2 Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine and Division of Biostatistics, Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center, University of Maryland School of Medicine, 10 South Pine Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21201, USA


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2008 Bentham Science Publishers Ltd.

* Address correspondence to this author at the Department of Biomedical Sciences/Dental School, and The Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center, University of Maryland, 650 West Baltimore Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21201, USA; E-mail: lcostello@umaryland.edu


Abstract

Despite the prevalence of prostate cancer, the etiology and factors associated with its development and progression are largely unknown. An important relationship in prostate cancer is the role of zinc. Clinical evidence and experimental evidence have established that prostate cancer is associated with a decrease in the zinc uptake and accumulation in the malignant cells; and that the accumulation of zinc in the prostate cells prevents malignancy. In contrast to this established consistent clinical relationship, numerous epidemiology studies and reports of the effect of dietary and supplemental zinc on the incidence of prostate cancer have provided divergent, inconsistent, and inconclusive results; which range from adverse effects of zinc, protective effects of zinc, and no effect of zinc on the risk of prostate cancer. Despite these divergent and inconclusive results, a prevailing view and public warning has evolved from unsubstantiated and uncorroborated epidemiology studies that zinc consumption increases the risk of developing advanced stage prostate cancer. Such a conclusion is not well-founded and has serious, confusing and erroneous implications for the medical/scientific community and for the public-at-large. The admonition of Dimitrios Trichopoulos over a decade ago [1] that, “… (epidemiology) studies will inevitably generate false positive and false negative results with disturbing frequency. …, when (people) do take us seriously, we may unintentionally do more harm than good” can be applied to the situation that is the subject of this report.

Therefore it is extremely important to review the epidemiology studies that have lead to the conclusion of an adverse effect of zinc, and also that have produced such inconsistent and divergent results. This critical review defines issues, problems, and shortcomings that exist in the conduct, conclusions, and dissemination of the epidemiology studies. We caution that one should be knowledgeable and understanding of these issues in assessing the validity and the conclusiveness of the outcomes from the epidemiology studies of purported associations of dietary and supplemental zinc on the risk of prostate cancer; particularly when the unsubstantiated conclusions are at odds with clinical and experimental evidence. It is in the interest of the medical, scientific and public communities that this critical review is undertaken. We hope that this review will generate an open, objective, scientific and medical discussion and assessment of this important issue.