Cancer cells with irons in the fire

Free Radic Biol Med. 2015 Feb;79:337-42. doi: 10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2014.04.035. Epub 2014 May 14.


Iron is essential for the growth and proliferation of cells, as well as for many biological processes that are important for the maintenance and survival of the human body. However, excess iron is associated with the development of cancer and other pathological conditions, due in part to the pro-oxidative nature of iron and its damaging effects on DNA. Current studies suggest that iron depletion may be beneficial for patients that have diseases associated with iron overload or other iron metabolism disorders that may increase the risk for cancer. On the other hand, studies suggest that cancer cells are more vulnerable to the effects of iron depletion and oxidative stress in comparison to normal cells. Therefore, cancer patients might benefit from treatments that alter both iron metabolism and oxidative stress. This review highlights the pro-oxidant effects of iron, the relationship between iron and cancer development, the vulnerabilities of the iron-dependent cancer phenotype, and how these characteristics may be exploited to prevent or treat cancer.

Keywords: Cancer; Free radicals; Iron; Iron chelators; Iron overload; Oxidative stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Iron / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Oxidative Stress


  • Iron