Potassium, sodium, and cancer: a review

J Environ Pathol Toxicol Oncol. 1996;15(2-4):65-73.


Agents known or believed to be carcinogenic decrease the concentration of potassium and increase the concentration of sodium in the cells. Anticarcinogenic agents have the opposite effect. In all cases where we have information on an agent's carcinogenicity or anticarcinogenicity and on that agent's effects on cellular potassium and sodium concentrations the above relationships have been found to be true. Dietary carcinogenic agents studied include sodium, cadmium, fat, cholesterol, calories, and alcohol; dietary anticarcinogenic agents include potassium, vitamins A, C, and D, selenium, and fiber. The effect of calcium intake is less clear as that effect depends on the concentrations on sodium and potassium. Not only dietary agents but also other carcinogenic and anticarcinogenic agents work in the same way. The cancer-causing drug dimethylhydrazine increases sodium and decreases potassium in the cells, whereas, for example, indomethacin, an anticarcinogen, has the opposite effect. In aging potassium leaves the cells, sodium enters them, and the rates of cancer increase. Patients with hyperkalemic diseases (Parkinson, Addison) have reduced cancer rates, and patients with hypokalemic diseases (alcoholism, obesity, stress) have increased cancer rates.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / chemistry*
  • Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Neoplasms / mortality
  • Potassium / metabolism*
  • Sodium / metabolism*


  • Sodium
  • Potassium