Evidence is accumulating that folate, a B vitamin found in green leafy vegetables, may affect the development of neoplasia. We examined the relationship between folate status and colorectal cancer in a case-control study nested within the Alpha-Tocopherol Beta-Carotene Study cohort of male smokers 50-69 years old. Serum folate was measured in 144 incident cases (91 colon, 53 rectum) and 276 controls matched to cases on baseline age, clinic, and time of blood collection. Baseline dietary folate was available from a food-use questionnaire for 386 of these men (92%). Conditional logistic regression modeling was used. No statistically significant association was observed between serum folate and colon or rectal cancer. Although a 2-fold increase in rectal cancer risk was suggested for men with serum folate > 2.9 ng/ml and those in the highest quartile of energy-adjusted folate intake, there was no evidence of a monotonic dose-response, and all confidence intervals included unity. For dietary folate and colon cancer, odds ratios of 0.40 [95% confidence interval (CI), 0.16-0.96], 0.34 (95% CI, 0.13-0.88), and 0.51 (95% CI, 0.20-1.31) were obtained for the second through fourth quartiles of energy-adjusted folate intake, respectively, compared to the first (P for trend = 0.15). Furthermore, men with a high-alcohol, low-folate, low-protein diet were at higher risk for colon cancer than men who consumed a low-alcohol, high-folate, high-protein diet (OR, 4.79; 95% CI, 1.36-16.93). This study suggests a possible association between low folate intake and increased risk of colon cancer (but not rectal cancer) and highlights the need for further studies that measure dietary folate and methionine, along with biochemical measures of folate (i.e., erythrocyte and serum), homocysteine, and vitamin B12.

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