The Relationship of Dietary Selenium to Carcinogenesis

  • P. D. Whanger


Selenium has come full circle in two respects—from toxicity to an essential element and from a carcinogenic agent to an anticarcinogenic element. Until 1957 the only significance of selenium was thought to be its toxicity. Since that time research has been conducted to confirm that it is an essential element, and several seleno-enzymes and selenoproteins are now known (1). In 1943 a paper was published indicating that selenium was a carcinogenic element (2). This created a very damaging image for selenium in that it was thought to be a very toxic element which caused cancer. Even with all the information to indicate otherwise, this image still lingers. For example, in 1975 a IARC review on selenium and selenium-containing compounds concluded that “the available data provide no suggestion that selenium is carcinogenic to man” (3). Nevertheless, even today a number of selenium compounds are marketed with a warning label that indicates the substance may be a carcinogen. There are numerous reviews on the relationship of selenium to cancer and a few of them are listed here (1, 4–6).


Selenium Compound Warning Label Carcinogenic Agent Roswell Park Cancer Institute Selenoamino Acid 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • P. D. Whanger
    • 1
  1. 1.Oregon State UniversityCorvallisUSA

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