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Cervical Cancer and Selenium

Written by sshowalter, FoundHealth.

Selenium is a trace mineral that our bodies use to produce glutathione peroxidase. Glutathione peroxidase is part of the body's antioxidant defense system; it works with vitamin E to protect cell membranes from damage caused by dangerous, naturally occurring substances known as free radicals.

China has very low rates of colon cancer, presumably because of the nation's low-fat diet. However, in some parts of China where the soil is depleted of selenium, the incidence of various types of cancer is much higher than in the rest of the country. This fact has given rise to a theory that selenium deficiency is a common cause of many forms cancer, and that selenium supplements can reduce this risk. This is the reason that selenium is listed here as a treatment for cervical cancer.

Additionally, for the treatment of cervical or any other form of cancer, it is important to keep a well-rounded diet, perhaps take herbal supplements, and certainly determine if any of the medications you are taking are creating deficiencies of key nutrients in your body.

Effect of Selenium on Cervical Cancer

There is some preliminary evidence that selenium supplements might provide some protection against some types of cancer among people living in the US, but this evidence is far from definitive.

Read more details about Selenium.

Research Evidence on Selenium

The most important double-blind study on selenium and cancer was conducted by researchers at the University of Arizona Cancer Center.37 In this trial, which began in 1983, 1,312 people were divided into two groups. One group received 200 mcg of yeast-based selenium daily; the other received placebo. Participants were not deficient in selenium, although their selenium levels fell toward the bottom of the normal range. The researchers were trying to determine whether selenium could lower the incidence of skin cancers.

As it happened, no benefits for skin cancer were seen. (In fact, careful analysis of the data suggests that selenium supplements actually marginally increased risk of certain forms of skin cancer.58) However, researchers saw dramatic declines in the incidence of several other cancers in the selenium group. For ethical reasons, researchers felt compelled to stop the study after several years and allow all participants to take selenium.

When all the results were tabulated, it became clear that the selenium-treated group developed almost 66% fewer prostate cancers, 50% fewer colorectal cancers, and about 40% fewer lung cancers as compared with the placebo group. (All these results were statistically significant.) Selenium-treated subjects also experienced a statistically significant (17%) decrease in overall mortality, a greater than 50% decrease in lung cancer deaths, and nearly a 50% decrease in total cancer deaths. A subsequent close look at the data showed that only study participants who were relatively low in selenium to begin with experienced protection from lung cancer or colon cancer; people with average or above average levels of selenium did not benefit significantly.55, 60 It has not yet been reported whether this limitation of benefit to low-selenium participants was true of the other forms of cancer as well.

While this evidence is promising, it has one major flaw. The laws of statistics tell us that when researchers start to deviate from the question their research was designed to answer, the results may not be trustworthy. Currently, other studies are underway in an attempt to validate the findings accidentally discovered in this trial.

Interestingly, combining the results of 12 recent placebo-controlled trials investigating the association between antioxidant supplementation and cancer, researchers found that men who took selenium experienced an overall reduction in the incidence of cancer. No similar effect, however, was observed in women.65 This difference cannot be explained without more research. In addition, selenium supplementation appeared to modestly lower cancer mortality in both men and women.

Other evidence for the possible anticancer benefits of selenium comes from large-scale Chinese studies showing that giving selenium supplements to people who live in selenium-deficient areas reduces the incidence of cancer.38 In addition, animal trials have found anticancer benefits.41,42

However, one study published in 2007 reported negative results in transplant patients.63 People who undergo organ transplants are at particularly high risk of skin cancer linked to the human papilloma virus (HPV). In this double-blind study, 184 organ transplant recipients were given either placebo or selenium at a dose of 200 mg daily. The results over two years failed to show benefit; both the placebo and the selenium group developed precancerous and cancerous lesions at the same rate.

Safety Issues

The US Institute of Medicine issues guidelines for the maximum total daily intake of various nutrients, based on estimations of what should be safe for virtually all healthy individuals. These tolerable upper intake levels (ULs) are, thus, conservative guidelines. For selenium, they have been set as follows: 1

  • Infants
  • 0-6 months: 45 mcg
  • 7-12 months: 60 mcg
  • Children
  • 1-3 years: 90 mcg
  • 4-8 years: 150 mcg
  • 9-13 years: 280 mcg
  • Males and Females
  • 14 years and older: 400 mcg
  • Pregnant or Nursing Women: 400 mcg

Note that these dosages apply to combined dietary and supplemental intake of selenium. When deciding how much selenium it’s safe to take, keep in mind that most adults already receive about 100 mcg of selenium in the daily diet.

Maximum safe doses of selenium for individuals with severe liver or kidney disease have not been established. There is some evidence that supplementing selenium over the long-term in areas where selenium is already adequate in the diet may increase the risk of diabetes and perhaps hypercholesterolemia. 2 Highly excessive selenium intake, beginning at about 900 mcg daily, can cause selenium toxicity. 3 Signs include depression, nervousness, emotional instability, nausea, vomiting, and in some cases loss of hair and fingernails.

Interactions You Should Know About

If you are taking medications that reduce stomach acid, such as H 2 blockers or proton pump inhibitors , you may need extra selenium.

References

  1. Dietary reference intakes for vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, and carotenoids. The National Academies Press website. Available at http://www.nap.edu. Accessed October 4, 2001.
  2. Navas-Acien A, Bleys J, Guallar E. Selenium intake and cardiovascular risk: what is new? Curr Opin Lipidol. 19(1):43-9.
  3. Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Selenium and Carotenoids. Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 2000.
  1. Look MP, Rockstroh JK, Rao GS, et al. Sodium selenite and N-acetylcysteine in antiretroviral-naive HIV-1-infected patients: a randomized, controlled pilot study. Eur J Clin Invest. 1998;28:389-397.
  1. Zazzo JF, Chalas J, Lafont A, et al. Is nonobstructive cardiomyopathy in AIDS a selenium deficiency-related disease? [letter] JPEN J Parenter Enteral Nutr. 1988;12:537-538.
  1. Dworkin BM. Selenium deficiency in HIV infection and the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Chem Biol Interact. 1994;91:181-186.
  1. Baeten JM, Mostad SB, Hughes MP, et al. Selenium deficiency is associated with shedding of HIV-1-infected cells in the female genital tract. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2001;26:360-364.
  1. Knekt P, Heliovaara M, Aho K, et al. Serum selenium, serum alpha-tocopherol, and the risk of rheumatoid arthritis [abstract]. Epidemiology. 2000;11:402-405.
  1. Tarp U. Selenium in rheumatoid arthritis. A review. Analyst. 1995;120:877-881.
  1. Peretz A, Siderova V, Neve J. Selenium supplementation in rheumatoid arthritis investigated in a double blind, placebo-controlled trial. Scand J Rheumatol. 2001;30:208-212.
  1. Clark LC, Combs GF Jr, Turnbull BW, et al. Effects of selenium supplementation for cancer prevention in patients with carcinoma of the skin. A randomized controlled trial. Nutritional Prevention of Cancer Study Group. JAMA. 1996;276:1957-1963.
  1. Yu SY, Zhu YJ, Li WG. Protective role of selenium against hepatitis B virus and primary liver cancer in Qidong. Biol Trace Elem Res. 1997;56:117-124.
  1. National Research Council, Diet and Health. Implications for Reducing Chronic Disease Risk. Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 1989: 376-379.
  1. Hocman G. Chemoprevention of cancer: selenium. Int J Biochem. 1988;20:123-132.
  1. Tanaka T, Makita H, Kawabata K, et al. 1,4-phenylenebis(methylene)selenocyanate exerts exceptional chemopreventive activity in rat tongue carcinogenesis. Cancer Res. 1997;57:3644-3648.
  1. Yan L, Yee JA, McGuire MH, et al. Effect of dietary supplementation of selenite on pulmonary metastasis of melanoma cells in mice. Nutr Cancer. 1997;28:165-169.
  1. Dietary reference intakes for vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, and carotenoids. The National Academies Press website. Available at http://www.nap.edu. Accessed October 4, 2001.
  1. Petersson I, Majberger E, Palm S, et al. Treatment of rheumatoid arthritis with selenium and vitamin E [abstract]. Scand J Rheumatol. 1991;20:218.
  1. Jantti J, Vapaatalo H, Seppala E, et al. Treatment of rheumatoid arthritis with fish oil, selenium, vitamins A and E, and placebo [abstract]. Scand J Rheumatol. 1991;20:225.
  1. Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Selenium and Carotenoids. Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 2000.
  1. Rannem T, Ladefoged K, Hylander E, Hegnhoj J, Staun M. Selenium depletion in patients with gastrointestinal diseases: Are there any predictive factors? Scand J Gastroenterol. 1998;33:1057-1061.
  1. Kardinaal AF, Kok FJ, Kohlmeier L, et al. Association between toenail selenium and risk of acute myocardial infarction in European men. The EURAMIC Study. European Antioxidant Myocardial Infarction and Breast Cancer. Am J Epidemiol. 1997;145:373-379.
  1. Korpela H, Kumpulainen J, Jussila E, et al. Effect of selenium supplementation after acute myocardial infarction. Res Commun Chem Pathol Pharmacol. 1989;65:249-252.
  1. Lapenna D, de Gioia S, Ciofani G, Mezzetti A, Ucchino S, Calafiore AM, Napolitano AM, Di Ilio C, Cuccurulo F. Glutathione-related antioxidant defenses in human atherosclerotic plaques. Circulation. 1998;97:1930-1934.
  1. Neve J. Selenium as a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases. J Cardiovasc Risk. 1996;3:42-47.
  1. Salvini S, Hennekens CH, Morris JS, et al. Plasma levels of the antioxidant selenium and risk of myocardial infarction among US physicians. Am J Cardiol. 1995;76:1218-21.
  1. Trankmann P, Thiele R, Winnefeld K, et al. Effect of administration of selenium and vitamin E on heart failure and ventricular arrhythmias in patients with acute myocardial infarct. Med Klin. 1999;94(suppl 3):78-80.
  1. Scott R , MacPherson A, Yates RWS, et al. The effect of oral selenium supplementation on human sperm motility. Br J Urol. 1998;82:76-80.
  1. Reid ME, Duffield-Lillico AJ, Garland L, et al. Selenium supplementation and lung cancer incidence: an update of the nutritional prevention of cancer trial. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2002;11:1285-1291.
  1. Shor-Posner G, Lecusay R, Miguez MJ, et al. Psychological burden in the era of HAART: impact of selenium therapy. Int J Psychiatry Med. 2003;33:55-69.
  1. Broome CS, McArdle F, Kyle JA, et al. An increase in selenium intake improves immune function and poliovirus handling in adults with marginal selenium status. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004;80:154-162.
  1. Duffield-Lillico AJ, Slate EH, Reid ME, et al. Selenium supplementation and secondary prevention of nonmelanoma skin cancer in a randomized trial. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2003;95:1477-1481.
  1. Rayman M, Thompson A, Warren-Perry M, et al. Impact of selenium on mood and quality of life: a randomized, controlled trial. Biol Psychiatry. 2005 Sep 19. [Epub ahead of print]
  1. Reid ME, Duffield-Lillico AJ, Sunga A, et al. Selenium supplementation and colorectal adenomas: an analysis of the nutritional prevention of cancer trial. Int J Cancer. 2005 Oct 10. [Epub ahead of print]
  1. Shaheen SO, Newson RB, Rayman MP, et al. Randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of selenium supplementation in adult asthma. Thorax. 2007 Jan 18. [Epub ahead of print]
  1. Hurwitz BE, Klaus JR, Llabre MM, et al. Suppression of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 viral load with selenium supplementation, a randomized controlled trial. Arch Intern Med. 2007;167:148-154.
  1. Dreno B, Euvrard S, Frances C, et al. Effect of selenium intake on the prevention of cutaneous epithelial lesions in organ transplant recipients. Eur J Dermatol. 2007;17:140-145.
  1. Stranges S, Marshall JR, Natarajan R, et al. Effects of long-term selenium supplementation on the incidence of type 2 diabetes. Ann Intern Med. 2007 July 9. [Epub ahead of print]
  1. Bardia A, Tleyjeh IM, Cerhan JR, et al. Efficacy of antioxidant supplementation in reducing primary cancer incidence and mortality: systematic review and meta-analysis. M ayo Clin Proc. 2008;83:23-34.
  1. Navas-Acien A, Bleys J, Guallar E. Selenium intake and cardiovascular risk: what is new? Curr Opin Lipidol. 2008;19:43-49.
  1. Gosney MA, Hammond MF, Shenkin A, et al. Effect of micronutrient supplementation on mood in nursing home residents. Gerontology. 2008 May 8.

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