A threshold concept for cancer therapy

Med Hypotheses. 2000 Jul;55(1):29-35. doi: 10.1054/mehy.1999.0982.


Oxygen free radicals have been implicated in many disease processes, including aging and carcinogenesis, and have been associated with a variety of complications resulting from the treatment of cancer. As a result, the treatment of free radical-induced disease with antioxidants or free radical scavengers has become an important therapeutic modality. Ironically, these same oxygen free radicals also play a critical role in anti-cancer therapies. The use of antioxidants such as superoxide dismutase (SOD), in this setting, has been found to decrease the efficacy of anti-tumor therapies, which depend on free radical generation for their action. In addition, increased antioxidant activity can often be utilized by the tumor cell to favor increased growth. Therefore, the appropriate application of oxygen free radicals and antioxidants seems to be critically important in designing proper strategies for both prevention and treatment of malignant disorders. This review will summarize free radical and antioxidant regimens that have been employed to date, examine some of the problems associated with these regimens, introduce the 'threshold concept' explaining the dual effects of oxygen free radicals and antioxidants, and discuss a novel hypothesis regarding therapy that could potentially improve outcome in cancer patients.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antioxidants / metabolism
  • Antioxidants / therapeutic use
  • Apoptosis
  • Free Radicals / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Neoplasms / physiopathology*
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / physiology*
  • Superoxide Dismutase / metabolism
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Antioxidants
  • Free Radicals
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Superoxide Dismutase