Site-specific anticancer effects of dietary flavonoid quercetin

Nutr Cancer. 2014;66(2):177-93. doi: 10.1080/01635581.2014.864418. Epub 2013 Dec 30.


Food-derived flavonoid quercetin, widely distributed in onions, apples, and tea, is able to inhibit growth of various cancer cells indicating that this compound can be considered as a good candidate for anticancer therapy. Although the exact mechanism of this action is not thoroughly understood, behaving as antioxidant and/or prooxidant as well as modulating different intracellular signalling cascades may all play a certain role. Such inhibitory activity of quercetin has been shown to depend first of all on cell lines and cancer types; however, no comprehensive site-specific analysis of this effect has been published. In this review article, cytotoxicity constants of quercetin measured in various human malignant cell lines of different origin were compiled from literature and a clear cancer selective action was demonstrated. The most sensitive malignant sites for quercetin revealed to be cancers of blood, brain, lung, uterine, and salivary gland as well as melanoma whereas cytotoxic activity was higher in more aggressive cells compared to the slowly growing cells showing that the most harmful cells for the organism are probably targeted. More research is needed to overcome the issues of poor water solubility and relatively low bioavailability of quercetin as the major obstacles limiting its clinical use.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Antioxidants / pharmacology
  • Biological Availability
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Clinical Trials, Phase I as Topic
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Humans
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Polyphenols / pharmacology*
  • Quercetin / pharmacology*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Antioxidants
  • Polyphenols
  • Quercetin