Calcium supplementation and rectal mucosal proliferation: A randomized controlled trial

John A. Baron, Tor D. Tosteson, Michael J. Wargovich, Robert Sandler, Jack Mandel, John Bond, Robert Haile, Robert Summers, Rosalind Van Stolk, Richard Rothstein, Julia Weiss

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


Background: Data from studies using rodents suggest that dietary calcium inhibits bile acid-induced mucosal damage and experimental carcinogenesis in the large bowel. However, in humans, the effect of dietary calcium and calcium supplementation on proliferation and carcinogenesis in the large bowel has been unclear. Purpose: To assess the effect of calcium supplementation on rectal mucosal proliferation in humans, we conducted a multicenter, randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blinded trial. Methods: Participants were part of a larger multicenter chemoprevention trial; all were at high risk for large-bowel neoplasia, with at least one large-bowel adenoma removed endoscopically within the 3 months before study entry but with no known polyps remaining. Subjects were randomly assigned to receive daily either 3000 mg of calcium carbonate (providing 1200 mg elemental calcium) or an identical-appearing placebo tablet. During a scheduled endoscopy 6-9 months after random assignment (approximately 1 year after the qualifying endoscopy), rectal mucosal samples were obtained from 333 patients (173 assigned to calcium and 160 assigned to placebo). Proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA) labeling indices (LIs) were computed as the measure of proliferation in specimens from 146 patients receiving calcium and 129 patients receiving placebo. Bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU) labeling was used to measure proliferation in a smaller number of specimens (27 calcium-receiving and 31 placebo-receiving participants). For each scorable crypt having at least one labeled cell (or surrounded by crypts with at least one labeled cell), a crypt LI was calculated as the number of labeled cells divided by the total number of crypt cells. Crypt LIs were averaged to produce a participant's average LI. Results: The overall unadjusted mean PCNA LIs (± SE) were similar in the calcium and placebo groups (3.85% ± 0.08% versus 3.92% ± 0.08%, respectively, P =.30). The overall unadjusted mean BrdU LIs (± SE) were 3.88% ± 0.30% in the calcium group and 3.54% ± 0.21% in the placebo group (P =.54). PCNA labeling indices in the most luminal 40% of the crypt were small but, if anything, were higher in the calcium group. There was no patient subgroup within which calcium had an antiproliferative effect; the overall findings persisted among patients with high and low calcium intake, high and low fat intake, and high and low fiber intake. Conclusions: Calcium supplementation does not decrease rectal mucosal proliferation, as measured by PCNA (and BrdU) immunohistochemistry, in patients with previous large-bowel adenomas. This study, therefore, does not provide evidence for an anticarcinogenic effect of calcium. [J Natl Cancer Inst 1995; 87: 1303-7]

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1303-1307
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of the National Cancer Institute
Issue number17
StatePublished - Sep 6 1995
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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