Selenium pp 205-217 | Cite as

Selenium as a cancer preventive agent

  • Gerald F. CombsJr.
  • Junxuan Lü


A confluence of different types of evidence indicates that the essential nutrient selenium can affect cancer risk. Most epidemiological studies have shown inverse associations of selenium status and cancer risk; almost all experimental animal studies have shown that supranutritional exposures of selenium can reduce tumor yield; and each of the limited number of clinical intervention trials conducted to date has found selenium treatment to be associated with reductions in cancer risks. The known metabolic functions of selenium, which appear to be discharged by a fairly small and likely incomplete number of selenoproteins may not fully explain these effects. Certainly, selenoproteins may play cancer preventive roles, namely, those involved in antioxidant protection (the glutathione peroxidases), redox regulation (the thioredoxin reductases) and hormonal regulation of metabolism (iodothyronine 5′-deiodinases). However, only minimal evidence is currently available to address the question of whether selenoenzymes are, in fact, important in cancer prevention. More abundant empirical evidence has shown anti-carcinogenic effects of selenium in individuals with apparently full selenoenzyme expression. In fact, it appears that a number of selenium-metabolites (particularly, hydrogen selenide, methylselenol and, under some circumstances, selenodiglutathione) can be directly anti-carcinogenic. Therefore, while the hypothesis remains plausible that selenium-deprivation may increase cancer risk, there is strong support for the hypothesis that supranutritional exposures to selenium can reduce cancer risk. These hypotheses are not mutually exclusive, and it is likely that selenium can function as a cancer preventive agent through both nutritional and supranutritional mechanisms.


Cancer Risk Selenium Status Reduce Cancer Risk Selenium Dioxide Hydrogen Selenide 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gerald F. CombsJr.
    • 1
  • Junxuan Lü
    • 2
  1. 1.Division of Nutritional SciencesCornell UniversityIthacaUSA
  2. 2.AMC Cancer CenterDenverUSA

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