Anticancer effects of lactoferrin: underlying mechanisms and future trends in cancer therapy

Nutr Rev. 2014 Dec;72(12):763-73. doi: 10.1111/nure.12155. Epub 2014 Nov 18.


Lactoferrin has been widely studied over the last 70 years, and its role in diverse biological functions is now well known and generally accepted by the scientific community. Usually, alterations of the lactoferrin gene in cells are associated with an increased incidence of cancer. Several studies suggest that exogenous treatment with lactoferrin and its derivatives can efficiently inhibit the growth of tumors and reduce susceptibility to cancer. None of these studies, however, reported a consistent outcome with regard to the mechanisms underlying the anticancer effects of lactoferrin. In this review, the association of lactoferrin with cancer is thoroughly discussed, from lactoferrin gene expression to the potential use of lactoferrin in cancer therapy. Lactoferrin cytotoxicity against several cancers is reported to occur in distinct ways under different conditions, namely by cell membrane disruption, apoptosis induction, cell cycle arrest, and cell immunoreaction. Based on these mechanisms, new strategies to improve the anticancer effects of the lactoferrin protein and/or its derivatives are proposed. The potential for lactoferrin in the field of cancer research (including as a chemotherapeutic agent in cancer therapy) is also discussed.

Keywords: cancer therapy; cytotoxicity; gene; lactoferrin; mechanisms; protein.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adjuvants, Immunologic
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Cell Cycle Checkpoints / drug effects
  • Cell Membrane / drug effects
  • Cells / immunology
  • Chemoprevention
  • Gene Expression
  • Genetic Variation
  • Humans
  • Lactoferrin / genetics
  • Lactoferrin / therapeutic use*
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control


  • Adjuvants, Immunologic
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Lactoferrin