Selenium in the treatment of heavy metal poisoning and chemical carcinogenesis

J Trace Elem Electrolytes Health Dis. 1992 Dec;6(4):209-21.


Selenium (Se) has been shown to counteract the toxicity of heavy metals such as cadmium, inorganic mercury, methylmercury, thallium and to a limited extent silver. Although not as effective as Se, vitamin E significantly alters methylmercury toxicity and is more effective than Se against silver toxicity. Vitamin E is very effective against lead toxicity but Se has little effect. The presumed protective effect of Se against cadmium and mercury toxicity is through the diversion in their binding from low molecular weight proteins to higher molecular weight ones. Se appears effective in counteracting the chemical carcinogens (3-methyl-4-dimethyl-aminoazobenzene, 2-acetylaminofluorene, diethylnitrosamine, aflatoxin, 7,12-dimethylben (a) anthracene, benzopyrene and 3-methylcholanthrene) used to induce skin, liver and mammary tumors, but much less effective against those (dimethylhydrazine, azoxymethane, methylazoxymethanol, bis (2-oxopropyl) nitrosamine, benzopyrene, 1 methyl-1-nitrosourea and n-methyl-n-nitro-nitrosoguanidine) used to produce tumors in the colon, lungs, trachea and pancreas in laboratory animals. In contrast, Se many even increase pancreatic carcinomas in animals treated with bis (2-oxopropyl) nitrosamine. The health implications in humans of Se and heavy metal toxicities and in cancer are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anticarcinogenic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Diet
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Metals / poisoning*
  • Neoplasms, Experimental / chemically induced
  • Neoplasms, Experimental / prevention & control*
  • Poisoning / drug therapy*
  • Selenium / administration & dosage
  • Selenium / blood
  • Selenium / pharmacology
  • Selenium / therapeutic use*


  • Anticarcinogenic Agents
  • Metals
  • Selenium