Copper and carcinogenesis

Crit Rev Oncol Hematol. 2002 Apr;42(1):57-64. doi: 10.1016/s1040-8428(02)00007-0.


Metal ions play an important role in biological systems, and without their catalytic presence in trace or ultratrace amounts many essential co-factors for many biochemical reactions would not take place. However, they become toxic to cells when their concentrations surpass certain optimal (natural) levels. Copper is an essential metal. Catalytic copper, because of its mobilization and redox activity, is believed to play a central role in the formation of reactive oxygen species (ROS), such as O2-* and *OH radicals, that bind very fast to DNA, and produce damage by breaking the DNA strands or modifying the bases and/or deoxyribose leading to carcinogenesis. The chemistry and biochemistry of copper is briefly accounted together with its involvement in cancer and other diseases.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Copper / adverse effects*
  • Copper / chemistry
  • Copper / pharmacokinetics
  • Copper / physiology
  • DNA / drug effects
  • DNA Adducts / chemistry
  • DNA Damage
  • Free Radicals
  • Humans
  • Metalloproteins / chemistry
  • Mice
  • Neoplasms / chemically induced*
  • Neoplasms, Experimental / chemically induced
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Rats
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism


  • DNA Adducts
  • Free Radicals
  • Metalloproteins
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Copper
  • DNA