Cellular mechanisms of zinc dysregulation: a perspective on zinc homeostasis as an etiological factor in the development and progression of breast cancer

Nutrients. 2012 Aug;4(8):875-903. doi: 10.3390/nu4080875. Epub 2012 Jul 30.


Worldwide, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women and is the leading cause of female cancer deaths. Zinc (Zn) functions as an antioxidant and plays a role in maintaining genomic stability. Zn deficiency results in oxidative DNA damage and increased cancer risk. Studies suggest an inverse association between dietary and plasma Zn levels and the risk for developing breast cancer. In contrast, breast tumor biopsies display significantly higher Zn levels compared with normal tissue. Zn accumulation in tumor tissue also correlates with increased levels of Zn importing proteins. Further, aberrant expression of Zn transporters in tumors correlates with malignancy, suggesting that altered metal homeostasis in the breast could contribute to malignant transformation and the severity of cancer. However, studies have yet to link dysregulated Zn transport and abnormal Zn-dependent functions in breast cancer development. Herein, we summarize studies that address the multi-modal role of Zn dyshomeostasis in breast cancer with respect to the role of Zn in modulating oxidative stress, DNA damage response/repair pathways and cell proliferation/apoptosis, and the relationship to aberrant regulation of Zn transporters. We also compare Zn dysregulation in breast tissue to that of prostate, pancreatic and ovarian cancer where possible.

Keywords: DNA damage/repair; apoptosis; breast cancer; cell cycle; cell signaling; oxidative stress; proliferation; transcription; zinc homeostasis; zinc transport.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Female
  • Homeostasis*
  • Humans
  • Signal Transduction
  • Zinc / metabolism*


  • Zinc