Written by Gabriele Dennert and the CAM-Cancer Consortium.
Updated October 20, 2013

Selenium prevention

Does it work?

This summary is currently (April 2016) being updated, the version published here was last updated in October 2013. 

Systematic reviews

Two systematic reviews have investigated the effects of selenium mono-supplements on cancer prevention (Table 1).

In a Cochrane review by Dennert et al. (2011), 19 six randomised controlled trials (RCTs) were included. Cross-cancer meta-analyses of study results were not conducted because of the heterogeneity of experimental interventions, primary outcomes and study participants. The authors concluded that there was no convincing evidence that selenium supplements could prevent cancer – in particular prostate, skin and liver cancer – in men or women.

Another recent systematic review on this topic reached different conclusions: Lee et al. (2011) 20 reported that their meta-analysis of nine RCTs showed an overall preventive effect of selenium supplementation on liver cancer incidence. Looking at various types of cancers, the authors found no preventive effect of selenium against skin cancer, prostate cancer, stomach cancer, colorectal cancer, oesophageal or lung cancer; the preventive effect was restricted to liver cancer.

Discrepancies between both reviews can be explained by different inclusion criteria, which led to a different set of included studies, and the performance of a cross-cancer meta-analysis in the latter paper. In addition to the six RCTs which were included in both reviews, Lee et al. (2011), 20 but not Dennert et al. (2011), 19 also included the following: a trial with organ transplant recipients 21 for skin-cancer prevention; a trial which used a combined intervention (selenium plus synthetic allitridum); 22 for liver cancer; and another trial which randomised participants by area of residence, also for liver cancer. 23 The inclusion of trials which used a combined intervention, or randomised participants on the basis of their residential area, introduced additional bias to review results, which might have led to an overestimation of the preventive efficacy of selenium in Lee et al. (2011). 20

Furthermore, the generalisability of Lee et al. (2011) 20 study on the preventive effect of selenium supplements against liver cancer is limited, because participants of all liver cancer trials were from high-risk populations (e.g. carriers of the hepatitis B surface antigen) and living in borderline selenium-deficient areas.

Citation

Gabriele Dennert, CAM-Cancer Consortium. Selenium prevention [online document]. http://cam-cancer.org/The-Summaries/Dietary-approaches/Selenium-prevention. October 20, 2013.

Document history

Summary first published in November 2010, authored by Gabriele Dennert.

Original summary divided into “Selenium – prevention” and “Selenium – during cancer treatment”, fully revised and updated in October 2013 by Gabriele Dennert.

References

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