American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 84, No. 5, 1027-1032, November 2006
© 2006 American Society for Nutrition

Onion and garlic use and human cancer1,2,3

Carlotta Galeone, Claudio Pelucchi, Fabio Levi, Eva Negri, Silvia Franceschi, Renato Talamini, Attilio Giacosa and Carlo La Vecchia

1 From the Istituto di Ricerche Farmacologiche "Mario Negri," Milan, Italy (CG, CP, EN, and CLV); the Registre vaudois des tumeurs, Institut universitarie de médicine sociale et préventive, CHUV-Falaises 1, Lausanne, Switzerland (FL); the International Agency for Research on Cancer, Lyon, France (SF); the Servizio di Epidemiologia e Biostatistica, Centro di Riferimento Oncologico, Aviano (Pordenone), Italy (RT); the Policlinico di Monza, Monza (Mi), Italy (AG); and the Istituto di Statistica Medica e Biometria, Universitŕ degli Studi di Milano, Milan, Italy (CLV)


Background: Interest in the potential benefits of allium vegetables, in particular, onion (Allium cepa) and garlic (Allium sativum), has its origin in antiquity, but the details of these benefits are still open to discussion.

Objective: We investigated the role of allium vegetables in the etiology of various neoplasms. Previous data are scanty and are based mainly on Chinese studies.

Design: Using data from an integrated network of Italian and Swiss case-control studies, we analyzed the relation between frequency of onion and garlic use and cancer at several sites. We calculated odds ratios (ORs) by using multivariate logistic regression models that were adjusted for energy intake and other major covariates.

Results: Consumption of onions varied between 0–14 and 0–22 portions/wk among cases and controls, respectively. The multivariate ORs for the highest category of onion and garlic intake were, respectively, 0.16 and 0.61 for cancer of the oral cavity and pharynx, 0.12 and 0.43 for esophageal cancer, 0.44 and 0.74 for colorectal cancer, 0.17 and 0.56 for laryngeal cancer, 0.75 and 0.90 for breast cancer, 0.27 and 0.78 for ovarian cancer, 0.29 and 0.81 for prostate cancer, and 0.62 and 0.69 for renal cell cancer.

Conclusions: This uniquely large data set from southern European populations shows an inverse association between the frequency of use of allium vegetables and the risk of several common cancers. Allium vegetables are a favorable correlate of cancer risk in Europe.


Key Words: Allium vegetables • onion • Allium cepa • garlic • Allium sativum • tomato • diet • risk factors • oral cancer • pharyngeal cancer • esophageal cancer • colorectal cancer • laryngeal cancer • breast cancer • ovarian cancer • prostate cancer • renal cell cancer • case-control study