Therapeutic potential of flavonoids in cancer: ROS-mediated mechanisms

Biomed Pharmacother. 2022 Feb:146:112442. doi: 10.1016/j.biopha.2021.112442. Epub 2022 Jan 4.


Cancer is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality around the globe. Reactive oxygen species (ROS) play contradicting roles in cancer incidence and progression. Antioxidants have attracted attention as emerging therapeutic agents. Among these are flavonoids, which are natural polyphenols with established anticancer and antioxidant capacities. Increasing evidence shows that flavonoids can inhibit carcinogenesis via suppressing ROS levels. Surprisingly, flavonoids can also trigger excessive oxidative stress, but this can also induce death of malignant cells. In this review, we explore the inherent characteristics that contribute to the antioxidant capacity of flavonoids, and we dissect the scenarios in which they play the contrasting role as pro-oxidants. Furthermore, we elaborate on the pathways that link flavonoid-mediated modulation of ROS to the prevention and treatment of cancer. Special attention is given to the ROS-mediated anticancer functions that (-)-epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), hesperetin, naringenin, quercetin, luteolin, and apigenin evoke in various cancers. We also delve into the structure-function relations that make flavonoids potent antioxidants. This review provides a detailed perspective that can be utilized in future experiments or trials that aim at utilizing flavonoids or verifying their efficacy for developing new pharmacologic agents. We support the argument that flavonoids are attractive candidates for cancer therapy.

Keywords: Antioxidants; Cancer therapy; Flavonoids; Natural polyphenols; Oxidative stress; Phytomedicine.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antioxidants / pharmacology*
  • Carcinogens / chemistry
  • Flavonoids / chemistry
  • Flavonoids / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / pharmacology*
  • Signal Transduction


  • Antioxidants
  • Carcinogens
  • Flavonoids
  • Reactive Oxygen Species