Comparison of selenium and sulfur analogs in cancer prevention

Carcinogenesis. 1992 Jul;13(7):1167-70. doi: 10.1093/carcin/13.7.1167.


Several organoselenium compounds have been shown to have powerful anticarcinogenic activity. In view of certain similarities between selenium and sulfur biochemistry, we have evaluated the chemopreventive efficacy of three pairs of analogs using the 7,12-dimethylbenz[a]anthracene (DMBA)-induced mammary tumor model in rats. The compounds tested were selenocystamine/cysteamine, Semethylselenocysteine/S-methylcysteine, selenobetaine/sulfobetaine. In the first study, each agent was added to the basal AIN-76A diet and was given before and continued after DMBA treatment until the end. All three selenium compounds were active; a 50% inhibition was achieved at approximately 25 x 10(-6) mol/kg with Se-methylselenocysteine and selenobetaine and at approximately 40 x 10(-6) mol/kg with selenocystamine. In the sulfur series, only cysteamine and S-methylcysteine produced anticancer activity, and the levels required for comparable responses were 500- to 750-fold higher compared to the corresponding selenium analogs. Sulfobetaine was inactive even when present at near maximally tolerated levels. In the second study, Se-methylselenocysteine and S-methylcysteine were chosen for further examination during the initiation and post-initiation phases of mammary carcinogenesis. Se-Methylselenocysteine was effective when it was given either before or after DMBA administration. In contrast, S-methylcysteine was effective only after DMBA treatment. Thus, compared to the sulfur structural analogs, selenium compounds are much more active in cancer protection and may have a multi-modal mechanism in preventing cellular transformation as well as in delaying or inhibiting the expression of malignancy after carcinogen exposure.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • 9,10-Dimethyl-1,2-benzanthracene / toxicity*
  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Betaine / administration & dosage
  • Betaine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Betaine / therapeutic use
  • Cystamine / administration & dosage
  • Cystamine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Cystamine / therapeutic use
  • Cysteamine / administration & dosage
  • Cysteamine / therapeutic use*
  • Cysteine / administration & dosage
  • Cysteine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Cysteine / therapeutic use
  • Diet
  • Female
  • Mammary Neoplasms, Experimental / chemically induced
  • Mammary Neoplasms, Experimental / prevention & control*
  • Organoselenium Compounds / administration & dosage
  • Organoselenium Compounds / therapeutic use*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains
  • Selenocysteine / analogs & derivatives


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Organoselenium Compounds
  • Selenocysteine
  • selenocystamine
  • Betaine
  • 9,10-Dimethyl-1,2-benzanthracene
  • Cysteamine
  • selenobetaine
  • S-methylcysteine
  • Cysteine
  • Cystamine
  • selenomethylselenocysteine