Selenium stimulates the antitumour immunity: Insights to future research

Eur J Cancer. 2021 Sep:155:256-267. doi: 10.1016/j.ejca.2021.07.013. Epub 2021 Aug 13.


Selenium is an essential trace element for regulating immune functions through redox-regulating activity of selenoproteins (e.g. glutathione peroxidase), protecting immune cells from oxidative stress. However, in cancer, selenium has biological bimodal action depending on the concentration. At nutritional low doses, selenium, depending on its form, may act as an antioxidant, protecting against oxidative stress, supporting cell survival and growth, thus, plays a chemo-preventive role; while, at supra-nutritional higher pharmacological doses, selenium acts as pro-oxidant inducing redox signalling and cell death. To date, many studies have been conducted on the benefits of selenium intake in reducing the risk of cancer incidence at the nutritional level, indicating that likely selenium functions as an immunostimulator, i.e. reversing the immunosuppression in tumour microenvironment towards antitumour immunity by activating immune cells (e.g. M1 macrophages and CD8+ T-lymphocytes) and releasing pro-inflammatory cytokines such as interferon-gamma; whereas, fewer studies have explored the effects of supra-nutritional or pharmacological doses of selenium in cancer immunity. This review, thus, systematically analyses the current knowledge about how selenium stimulates the immune system against cancer and lay the groundwork for future research. Such knowledge can be promising to design combinatorial therapies with Selenium-based compounds and other modalities like immunotherapy to lower the adverse effects and increase the efficacy of treatments.

Keywords: Cancer; Cytokine; Immune system; Immunity; Immunosuppression; Lymphocyte; Selenium.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Immune System / drug effects*
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Selenium / pharmacology
  • Selenium / therapeutic use*
  • Tumor Microenvironment


  • Selenium