Selenium and the risk of postmenopausal breast cancer in the DOM cohort
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Selenium has been claimed to have chemo-preventive properties. However, data showing that in humans selenium levels are already decreased prior to diagnosis of breast cancer were not available. Such information is mandatory before oral selenium supplementation in the primary prevention of (breast) cancer in humans is acceptable. This question of a ‘preventive-potential’ of selenium was evaluated in a case-control study nested in a cohort, because this design allows determination of the time-order of preceding selenium levels and subsequent cancer risk.
The cohort consisted of 5577 women aged 55–70 years from the DOM project, a population based breast cancer screening program in the Netherlands. Instrumental Neutron Activation Analysis was used to measure the selenium content of toenail clippings. The 69 cases of breast cancer found during follow-up after screening represent ‘recent’ tumours since all women had a negative screening mammogram 3–5 years previously.
No decreased selenium levels, as measured in nail clippings from the big toes, could be detected in cases-to-be, either when compared to 4 age matched controls per case or when compared with a random control group drawn from the entire cohort. On the contrary, a tendency for slightly higher selenium levels among ‘future’ cancer cases was observed.
As to the sensitivity of detecting differences in selenium by nail clippings, lower selenium could be detected in nails of current smokers. The smoking-related decrease in nail selenium level was of the same order as the differences between breast cancer cases and controls, but was independent of the breast cancer risk.
Results are similar to a comparable study on premenopausal breast cancer and argue against a preventive role for selenium on breast cancer risk.
Key wordsselenium breast cancer risk epidemiology cohort study postmenopausal breast cancer nail
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