Friday, November 30, 2012
Is everything we eat associated with cancer?
The authors of this study aimed to examine the conclusions, statistical significance, and reproducibility in the literature on associations between specific foods and cancer risk.
Design: We selected 50 common ingredients from random recipes in a cookbook. PubMed queries identified recent studies that evaluated the relation of each ingredient to cancer risk. Information regarding author conclusions and relevant effect estimates were extracted. When >10 articles were found, we focused on the 10 most recent articles.
Results: Forty ingredients (80%) had articles reporting on their cancer risk. Of 264 single-study assessments, 191 (72%) concluded that the tested food was associated with an increased (n = 103) or a decreased (n = 88) risk; 75% of the risk estimates had weak (0.05 > P ≥ 0.001) or no statistical (P > 0.05) significance. Statistically significant results were more likely than nonsignificant findings to be published in the study abstract than in only the full text (P < 0.0001). Meta-analyses (n = 36) presented more conservative results; only 13 (26%) reported an increased (n = 4) or a decreased (n = 9) risk (6 had more than weak statistical support). The median RRs (IQRs) for studies that concluded an increased or a decreased risk were 2.20 (1.60, 3.44) and 0.52 (0.39, 0.66), respectively. The RRs from the meta-analyses were on average null (median: 0.96; IQR: 0.85, 1.10). Conclusions: Associations with cancer risk or benefits have been claimed for most food ingredients. Many single studies highlight implausibly large effects, even though evidence is weak. Effect sizes shrink in meta-analyses.