12/06/2012 05:58 pm ET Updated Feb 05, 2013

Reducing Cancer Risk for Pennies a Day

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association last month found that taking a multiple vitamin and mineral supplement (without iron) was associated with an 8 percent reduced cancer risk among men.

The study followed 15,000 male medical doctors with an average age of 64, over an 11-year period. There were 8 percent fewer cases of cancer in the vitamin-swallowing group compared to the control group. This is significantly less cancer than would be found by chance. When broken down into specific cancers, such as prostate, there was not a significant difference in the two groups because there were not enough cases to demonstrate statistical significance. Even so, isn't that exciting? For about the cost of a stick of gum, you might be able to reduce overall cancer risk by 8 percent (at least if you are a male doctor over the age of 50).

Unfortunately, most people will never hear the good news. In fact, this is probably the first you heard of it because positive research about supplements rarely shows up in the mainstream media. Even though this study was published in a prestigious, peer-reviewed journal, most of the media reports spreading the word were on sites related to the health food industry.

Even the study's researchers underplayed the results by calling the cancer reduction a "modest 8 percent." In the cancer world, 8 percent is a blockbuster. According to the American Cancer Society, the estimated U.S. cancer deaths for 2012 are 577,190. If those numbers are close to correct, an 8 percent reduction in cancer could save 46,175 people's lives.

In 2007, the direct medical costs associated with cancer were estimated to be $103.8 billion. A measly 8 percent of that nugget would be $8.3 billion, or enough to run a small country, or at least pay my cell phone bill. If you add the indirect costs associated with missing work or the emotional costs (and how does one begin to estimate those), the numbers are staggering.

A drug that would successfully treat 8 percent of just one type of cancer such as breast cancer would be heralded as a miracle of modern medicine. Nobody thinks a multiple vitamin and mineral supplement will cure cancer, but isn't prevention even better?

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