The Physicians' Health Study II is a large-scale, long-term, randomised clinical trial, which was conducted by 14,641 physicians who were at least 50 years old at enrollment.
All the physicians participating in the study were given 400 IU of vitamin E every other day or its placebo, or 500 mg of vitamin C daily or its placebo.
The subjects were followed for up to 10 years for the development of cancer with high rates of completion of annual questionnaires, and the confirmation of reported cancer endpoints.
According to analyses, randomisation to vitamin E did not have a significant effect on prostate cancer and also on total cancer. The researchers saw a similar lack of effect on total cancer with Vitamin C as well.
"After nearly 10 years of supplementation with either vitamin E or vitamin C, we found no evidence supporting the use of either supplement in the prevention of cancer. While vitamin E and C supplement use did not produce any protective benefits, they also did not cause any harm," said Howard D. Sesso, Sc.D., M.P.H., an assistant professor of medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital.
In earlier laboratory research and observational studies people who reported eating a diet rich in vitamins E and C were found to have a lower risk of cancer.
Such studies showed that taking these vitamins as individual supplements might lead to some protective benefits.
Study co-author and principal investigator J. Michael Gaziano, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital and VA Boston, added: "Individual vitamin supplements such as vitamin E and C do not appear to provide the same potential advantages as vitamins included as part of a healthy, balanced diet."
Sesso concluded that the results provide clinically meaningful new information.
"Our results represent one of only a few clinical trials that have tested this idea. The final component of the Physicians' Health Study II, testing daily multivitamin supplementation, remains ongoing," he said.