Research progress report: Folic acid and breast cancer risk

Published on October 29, 2014

Updated on March 21, 2018

We’re donning our brightest shades of pink this month to raise awareness of breast cancer.

This year, an estimated 232,670 women and 2,360 men will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. Nearly 40,430 people will die of the disease.

In support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we asked Foundation research awardee Ligi Paul, PhD, of Tufts University to give us an update on her study of folic acid and breast cancer risk.

Dr. Paul’s project is one of 95 projects on breast cancer that the Prevent Cancer Foundation has funded. Her project investigates a variation in the gene that is necessary to convert folic acid in vitamin supplements into a form easily absorbed by the body. This mutation is associated with a 52% increase risk of breast cancer in women who use multivitamins. Dr. Paul will study how genetic variations affect the body’s use of folic acid in ways that may increase cancer risk.Ligi Paul

What led to your interest in breast cancer prevention research?
There is a strong link between gene-nutrient interaction and cancer risk. My interest in folic acid, a nutrient in the Vitamin B complex, and its reactions fueled my interest in how changes in its metabolism may increase cancer risk.

How will your current research project advance the field of cancer prevention?
We already know from previous research that a common variation in a gene responsible for converting folic acid to a form that can be absorbed into the body appears to increase cancer risk in people who take multivitamins. Using funding from the Prevent Cancer Foundation, I am investigating how this genetic variation increases the cancer risk and how it might be alleviated. I hope the results of this study can help to formulate measures to reduce this risk for cancer.

How is your research progressing?
The project is progressing well. We have recruited volunteers to participate in the study, and we are now in the phase of determining how the variation in the gene for folic acid conversion affects cellular metabolism and contributes to increased cancer risk.

An investment in cancer prevention is an investment in the future. The Foundation has been funding cancer prevention research since 1986. Our peer-reviewed grants and fellowships have been awarded to 407 early-career scientists from leading academic medical centers nationwide. Learn more about our research grant and fellowship program.


Hi. I am 31 and diagnosed with bread cancer(stage 1, grade 1), had lumpectomy and having radiation now. I was diagnosed with Epilepsy about 6 years ago and have been on keppra 750mg/twice a day and folic acid 5mg. My question is: was the folic acid a trigger for breast cancer? I have no family history of cancer and I am fit, never smoked and good diet.


Hi Nadia,

Thanks for reaching out — we hope your breast cancer treatment is going well. There is some research being done on vitamins and their connection to cancer, including folic acid, but the jury is still out on whether or not this increases breast cancer risk. We encourage you to talk to your health care professionals if you are concerned.

–Prevent Cancer Foundation


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