• cohort study;
  • diet;
  • phytanic acid;
  • prostate caner


Phytanic acid is a saturated fatty acid found predominantly in red meat and dairy products and may contribute to increases in prostate cancer risk that are observed with higher intakes of these foods. We constructed a novel summary measure of phytanic acid intake and prospectively examined its association with prostate cancer risk in the Alpha-Tocopherol, Beta-Carotene Cancer Prevention Study—a cohort of Finnish male smokers aged 50–69 years. Diet was assessed at baseline in 27,111 participants using a validated 276-item dietary questionnaire. Since phytanic acid is not currently included in food composition tables, we used the published phytanic acid content of 151 major food items to estimate total daily intake. During up to 21 years of follow-up, a total of 1,929 incident prostate cancer cases (including 438 advanced cases) were identified. Higher phytanic acid intake, though unrelated to the risk of localized disease [relative risks (RR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) for increasing quartiles of intake = 1.00 (ref), 0.83 (0.68–1.01), 0.76 (0.62–0.94) and 0.91 (0.74–1.13); p trend = 0.23], was associated with increased risks of advanced prostate cancer [RR and 95% CI = 1.00 (ref), 1.43 (1.09–1.89), 1.31 (0.99–1.75) and 1.38 (1.02–1.89); p trend = 0.06]. This association appeared to be driven predominantly by phytanic acid obtained from dairy products (particularly butter). Our study indicates that phytanic acid may contribute to previously observed associations between high-fat animal foods (particularly dairy products) and prostate cancer risk, although some caution is warranted as it may be acting as a surrogate marker of dairy fat.