Hypothesis: iodine, selenium and the development of breast cancer

Cancer Causes Control. 2000 Feb;11(2):121-7. doi: 10.1023/a:1008925301459.


Background: In this paper we examine some of the evidence linking iodine and selenium to breast cancer development. Seaweed is a popular dietary component in Japan and a rich source of both of these essential elements. We hypothesize that this dietary preference may be associated with the low incidence of benign and malignant breast disease in Japanese women. In animal and human studies, iodine administration has been shown to cause regression of both iodine-deficient goiter and benign pathological breast tissue. Iodine, in addition to its incorporation into thyroid hormones, is organified into anti-proliferative iodolipids in the thyroid; such compounds may also play a role in the proliferative control of extrathyroidal tissues. Selenium acts synergistically with iodine. All three mono-deiodinase enzymes are selenium-dependent and are involved in thyroid hormone regulation. In this way selenium status may affect both thyroid hormone homeostasis and iodine availability.

Conclusion: Although there is suggestive evidence for a preventive role for iodine and selenium in breast cancer, rigorous retrospective and prospective studies are needed to confirm this hypothesis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Breast Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / etiology
  • Breast Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Drug Interactions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Iodine / administration & dosage*
  • Iodine / deficiency
  • Japan / epidemiology
  • Odds Ratio
  • Risk Factors
  • Selenium / administration & dosage*
  • Selenium / deficiency
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Iodine
  • Selenium