May 4, 2020

The role of diet in esophageal cancer

New findings suggest that dietary calcium and magnesium affect the risk of esophageal cancer; if confirmed in interventional studies, they could inform dietary modifications to reduce the burden of this cancer.

by Anivarya Kumar

Cancer of the esophagus is a leading cause of cancer-related mortality worldwide. Altered dietary intakes of certain nutrients have been associated with cancer risk. 

To estimate the association between dietary calcium and magnesium and the occurrence of esophageal cancer, Shailja Shah, MD, MPH, and colleagues conducted a retrospective analysis of the National Institutes of Health AARP Diet and Health Study cohort.

This prospective cohort is the largest cohort in the United States with detailed nutrient information and linkage to health outcomes, including incident cancer.

As reported in the British Journal of Cancer, the researchers identified 1,414 cases of incident primary esophageal cancers (squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma) among more than 536,000 respondents.   

They demonstrated that increased calcium intake was associated with a lower risk of squamous cell carcinoma, while increased magnesium intake was associated with a greater risk of adenocarcinoma, but only among those with a low ratio of calcium:magnesium intake. 

If confirmed, particularly via interventional studies, these findings could inform dietary modifications that may help reduce the burden of one of the most common and deadly cancers globally.

The research was supported by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) — K12 HS026395 — and by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI).