The double-edged roles of ROS in cancer prevention and therapy

Theranostics. 2021 Mar 4;11(10):4839-4857. doi: 10.7150/thno.56747. eCollection 2021.


Reactive oxygen species (ROS) serve as cell signaling molecules generated in oxidative metabolism and are associated with a number of human diseases. The reprogramming of redox metabolism induces abnormal accumulation of ROS in cancer cells. It has been widely accepted that ROS play opposite roles in tumor growth, metastasis and apoptosis according to their different distributions, concentrations and durations in specific subcellular structures. These double-edged roles in cancer progression include the ROS-dependent malignant transformation and the oxidative stress-induced cell death. In this review, we summarize the notable literatures on ROS generation and scavenging, and discuss the related signal transduction networks and corresponding anticancer therapies. There is no doubt that an improved understanding of the sophisticated mechanism of redox biology is imperative to conquer cancer.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Antioxidants / metabolism
  • Antioxidants / therapeutic use
  • Apoptosis
  • Carcinogenesis*
  • Cell Proliferation*
  • Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition*
  • Ferroptosis
  • Humans
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • NADP / metabolism
  • NADPH Oxidases / metabolism
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2 / metabolism
  • Necroptosis
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Neoplasms / therapy
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism*
  • Regulated Cell Death*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Superoxide Dismutase / metabolism


  • Antioxidants
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • NADP
  • Superoxide Dismutase
  • NADPH Oxidases