Several dietary factors have been considered to be involved in the increasing incidence of colorectal cancer in industrialised countries. Experimental and epidemiological evidence has been suggestive but not conclusive for a protective role for high dietary calcium intake. Intervention studies with colorectal cancer as an endpoint are difficult to perform owing to the large number of patients and the long follow-up required; studies using the appearance of colorectal adenomatous polyps as a surrogate endpoint are therefore considered in reviewing the existing evidence.
This systematic review aims to assess the effect of supplementary dietary calcium on the incidence of colorectal cancer and the incidence or recurrence of adenomatous polyps.
We searched the Cochrane Controlled Trials Register, the Cochrane Colorectal Cancer Group specialised register, MEDLINE, Cancerlit, and Embase, to April 2002. The reference lists of identified studies were inspected for further studies, and the review literature was scrutinized.
Randomised controlled trials of the effects of dietary calcium on the development of colonic cancer and adenomatous polyps in humans are reviewed. Studies of healthy adults and studies of adults at higher risk of colon cancer due to family history, previous adenomatous polyps, or inflammatory bowel disease were considered; data from subjects with familial polyposis coli are excluded. The primary outcomes were the occurrence of colon cancer, and occurrence or recurrence of any new adenomas of the colon. Secondary outcomes were any adverse event that required discontinuation of calcium supplementation, and drop-outs before the end of the study.
Data collection and analysis
Two reviewers independently extracted data, assessed trial quality and resolved discrepancies by consensus. The outcomes were reported as odds ratios (OR) with 95% confidence intervals (CI). The data were combined with the fixed effects model.
Two studies with 1346 subjects met the inclusion criteria. Both trials were well designed, double - blind, placebo controlled trials, included participants with previous adenomas. The doses of supplementary elemental calcium used were 1200 mg daily for a mean duration of 4 years, and 2000 mg/day for three years.The rates of loss to follow -up were 14 % and 11%.
For the development of recurrent colorectal adenoma, a reduction was found (OR 0.74, CI 0.58,0.95) when the results from both trials were combined.
Although the evidence from two RCTs suggests that calcium supplementation might contribute to a moderate degree to the prevention of colorectal adenomatous polyps, this does not constitute sufficient evidence to recommend the general use of calcium supplements to prevent colorectal cancer.