Study on positive effect of fruits and vegetables on different tumours (MUMC+ news)

Diet-based vitamin C can reduce the risk of head and neck cancer

Scientists at Maastricht UMC+ Maastricht University have found that vitamin C derived from fruits and vegetables can significantly reduce the risk of developing head and neck cancer. This effect is greatest on oral cavity cancer. The study also suggests that vitamin E may help to prevent this type of tumour. The study was recently published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and was made possible by funding from the Dutch World Cancer Research Fund.

With more than 1,000 new cases per year, oral cavity cancer is the most common type of head and neck cancer in the Netherlands. While this form of cancer is more common in men than in women, the number of new cases among women is increasing each year. In just ten years’ time, the number of women diagnosed with oral cavity cancer has increased by more than 45 percent compared to just 16 percent in men.


The study analysed data from the Dutch Cohort Study (NLCS), which tracked more than 120,000 Dutch citizens between the age of 55 and 69 from 1986 to 2015. In addition to examining the link between fruits and vegetables and different types of head and neck cancer, the researchers also studied the role played by specific nutrients. Among other things, the study revealed that a higher intake of vitamin C-rich foods reduced the risk of developing oral cavity cancer and other forms of head and neck cancer. The results also suggest that vitamin E may play a role in the development of this type of cancer. These results apply to vitamins obtained through foods, not supplements.


‘This study allowed us to contribute to the scientific body of evidence that link the consumption of fruits and vegetables to the risk of developing different forms of head and neck cancer, including oral cavity cancer,’ says Dr Leo Schouten, Associate Professor of Cancer Epidemiology. ‘Further research is needed before we can understand the mechanisms behind this connection, but the findings offer hope for preventing these types of cancers.’


‘The lifestyle choices we make are important for preventing cancer,’ says Nadia Ameyah, director of the Dutch World Cancer Research Fund. ‘Scientists estimate that most cases of mouth, throat and larynx cancer in the Western world can be prevented by not smoking, abstaining from alcohol and eating a healthy diet. Unfortunately, few Dutch people consume the recommended daily intake of fruits and vegetables.’

Also read

  • A bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Sciences gives you ample choice for where to apply your detailed knowledge of sickness and health. Whether you want to work in or outside of the lab. Lobke Meels is an inspiring example of pursuing a career outside of the lab. She combined her bachelor’s programme...

  • We are proud to announce that the open executive programmes of Maastricht University School of Business and Economics (SBE) have been included in the global top 80 by the Financial Times in their Open-enrolment Executive Education Ranking 2024. 

  • Aline Sierp received €50,000 in the NWO SSH XS funding scheme for the project ‘When the Past Determines the Future: The Role of Memory in Foreign Policy Decisions’. In the project, Aline will explore how political decisions are shaped by history.