Antioxidant inhibitors for cancer therapy

Med Hypotheses. 1998 Nov;51(5):405-9. doi: 10.1016/s0306-9877(98)90036-6.


Built-in cellular defense mechanisms play a major role in a tumor's protection against non-surgical antineoplastic therapies. Of these, the overexpression of antioxidants such as superoxide dismutase (SOD) may be the most important. Oxygen radicals are highly toxic, and have been implicated in various diseases, including carcinogenesis and aging. They produce a variety of pathological changes through lipid peroxidation and DNA damage. Therefore, treating free-radical-induced diseases with antioxidants has been an accepted therapeutic approach. Ironically, however, the underlying mechanism that most chemotherapeutic agents and ionizing radiation exert on tumor cell kill is not increased antioxidation but rather the production of more free radicals leading to irreversible tissue injury. A small increase in reactive oxygen species (ROS) following non-surgical antineoplastic therapies induces the expression of antioxidants such as SOD, but overproduction of ROS, conversely, exhausts the production of SOD and other adaptive antioxidant defenses. Based on these considerations, we hypothesize that the appropriate administration of antioxidant inhibitors and/or free-radical-generating compounds may be a useful strategy in the treatment of solid tumors.

MeSH terms

  • Antioxidants / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Superoxide Dismutase / biosynthesis


  • Antioxidants
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Superoxide Dismutase