OBJECTIVE: To determine whether treatment with vitamin E (500 IU daily) reduces either the incidence or rate of progression of age-related cataracts. DESIGN: A prospective, randomized, double-masked, placebo-controlled clinical trial entitled the Vitamin E, Cataract and Age-Related Maculopathy Trial. PARTICIPANTS: Of 1906 screened volunteers, 1193 eligible subjects with early or no cataract, aged 55 to 80 years, were enrolled and followed up for 4 years. INTERVENTION: Subjects were assigned randomly to receive either 500 IU of natural vitamin E in soybean oil encapsulated in gelatin or a placebo with an identical appearance. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: The incidence and progression rates of age-related cataract were assessed annually with both clinical lens opacity gradings and computerized analysis of Scheimpflug and retroillumination digital lens images obtained with a Nidek EAS-1000 lens camera. The analysis was undertaken using data from the eye with the more advanced opacity for each type of cataract separately and for any cataract changes in each individual. RESULTS: Overall, 87% of the study population completed the 4 years of follow-up, with 74% of the vitamin E group and 76% of the placebo group continuing on their randomized treatment allocation throughout this time. For cortical cataract, the 4-year cumulative incidence rate was 4.5% among those randomized to vitamin E and 4.8% among those randomized to placebo (P = 0.87). For nuclear cataract, the corresponding rates were 12.9% and 12.1% (P = 0.77). For posterior subcapsular cataract, the rates were 1.7% and 3.5% (P = 0.08), whereas for any of these forms of cataract, they were 17.1% and 16.7%, respectively. Progression of cortical cataract was seen in 16.7% of the vitamin E group and 18.4% of the placebo group (P = 0.76). Corresponding rates for nuclear cataract were 11.4% and 11.9% (P = 0.84), whereas those of any cataract were 16.5% and 16.7%, respectively. There was no difference in the rate of cataract extraction between the 2 groups (P = 0.87). Lens characteristics of the participants withdrawn from the randomized medications were not different from those who continued. CONCLUSIONS: Vitamin E given for 4 years at a dose of 500 IU daily did not reduce the incidence of or progression of nuclear, cortical, or posterior subcapsular cataracts. These findings do not support the use of vitamin E to prevent the development or to slow the progression of age-related cataracts.