32,000 Good Men

Prostate Cancer Study

Can taking dietary supplements help ward off prostate cancer? The National Cancer Institute has launched the largest-ever study of its kind to find out.

And it needs 32,400 men to step up and take part in the trial, the NCI announced today.

Called SELECT, which stands for the Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial, the study will look at the role these two dietary supplements may play in preventing prostate cancer, which strikes nearly 200,000 American men each year. This year alone more than 31,000 men are expected to die from the disease.

Choosing a combination of selenium and vitamin E was arrived at incidentally, says Dr. Daniel Morganstern, an oncologist at Lahey Clinic in Burlington, Mass., one of the more than 400 sites nationally taking part in the study.

In a previous study of selenium and skin cancer, researchers found that although selenium didn’t help with non-melanoma cancer, it did decrease the prostate cancer in male participants by 60 percent, Morganstern says.

Another study in Finland on men who smoked and who took beta-carotene and vitamin E yielded similar incidental results. Although not helpful with the lung cancer that was the focus of the study, prostate cancer was reduced by 32 percent.

Selenium and vitamin E are antioxidants that help clear the body of toxins known as free radicals, which can cause damage to the genetic material of cells.

The 12-year double-blind study will separate the volunteers into four groups: one will take vitamin E and a placebo; another selenium with a placebo; the third will take a combination of vitamin E and selenium; and the fourth will be given placebos only.

Morganstern says the researchers hope to follow each person for a minimum of five years. Those entering the trial this year will be tracked for the full 12 years.

Men over the age of 55 or black men over the age of 50 are eligible for the study. (Black men have the highest rate of prostate cancer and the disease strikes them earlier.) Each participant will be asked to visit his local study site once every six months. Blood tests and digital rectal exams are encouraged but are not required.

John Williams, director of communications for the Cancer Therapy and Research Center in San Antonio, Texas, says he’s already signed on. “If nothing more, you’re going to get closely monitored with PSA [a prostate cancer detection blood test] and other kinds of care.”

“I believe if there’s some way to contribute that’s totally harmless, it’s worth the effort,” Williams says. Even if you’re among the 25 percent who take nothing but a placebo, you’ve got nothing to lose, he says.

Adds Morganstern: “Now is the time for people who share an enthusiasm for nutritional interventions and are concerned about their risks to come to bat. We can always think about whether these things work.” But, he adds, we’ll never know for sure unless we call on the spirit of volunteers.

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