Selenium and cancer risk: Wide-angled Mendelian randomization analysis

Int J Cancer. 2022 Apr 1;150(7):1134-1140. doi: 10.1002/ijc.33902. Epub 2021 Dec 24.


Evidence on the association between selenium and cancer risk is inconclusive. We conducted a Mendelian randomization study to examine the associations of selenium levels with 22 site-specific cancers and any cancer. Single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) strongly associated with toenail and blood (TAB) and blood selenium levels in mild linkage disequilibrium (r2 < .3) were used as instrumental variables. Genetic associations of selenium-associated SNPs with cancer were obtained from the UK Biobank including a total of 59 647 cancer cases and 307 914 controls. Associations with P < .1 in UK Biobank were tested for replication in the FinnGen consortium comprising more than 180 000 individuals. The inverse-variance weighted method accounting for linkage disequilibrium was used to estimate the associations. Genetically predicted TAB selenium levels were not associated with the risk of the 22 site-specific cancers or any cancer (all 22 site-specific cancers). Similarly, we observed no strong association for genetically predicted blood selenium levels. However, genetically predicted blood selenium levels showed suggestive associations with risk of kidney cancer (odds ratio [OR] per one-unit increase in log-transformed levels: 0.83; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.67-1.03) and multiple myeloma (OR: 1.40; 95% CI: 1.02-1.93). The same direction of association for kidney cancer but not for multiple myeloma was observed in FinnGen. In the metaanalysis of UK Biobank and FinnGen, the OR of kidney cancer was 0.83 (95% CI: 0.69-1.00). Our study suggests that high selenium status may not prevent cancer development. The associations for kidney cancer and multiple myeloma need to be verified in well-powered studies.

Keywords: Mendelian randomization; cancer; kidney cancer; selenium.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Kidney Neoplasms / chemically induced*
  • Mendelian Randomization Analysis / methods*
  • Multiple Myeloma / chemically induced*
  • Nails / chemistry
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide
  • Selenium / adverse effects*
  • Selenium / analysis
  • Selenium / blood


  • Selenium