The Epidemiology of Selenium and Human Cancer

Adv Cancer Res. 2017:136:1-48. doi: 10.1016/bs.acr.2017.07.001. Epub 2017 Aug 12.


The relation between selenium and cancer has been one of the most hotly debated topics in human health over the last decades. Early observational studies reported an inverse relation between selenium exposure and cancer risk. Subsequently, randomized controlled trials showed that selenium supplementation does not reduce the risk of cancer and may even increase it for some types, including advanced prostate cancer and skin cancer. An increased risk of diabetes has also been reported. These findings have been consistent in the most methodologically sound trials, suggesting that the early observational studies were misleading. Other studies have investigated selenium compounds as adjuvant therapy for cancer. Though there is currently insufficient evidence regarding the utility and safety of selenium compounds for such treatments, this issue is worthy of further investigation. The study of selenium and cancer is complicated by the existence of a diverse array of organic and inorganic selenium compounds, each with distinct biological properties, and this must be taken into consideration in the interpretation of both observational and experimental human studies.

Keywords: Epidemiology; Neoplasms; Randomized controlled studies; Selenium.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Observational Studies as Topic
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Selenium / adverse effects*
  • Selenium / pharmacology*


  • Selenium