By TAP Integrative

Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men. Globally, over 1 million men are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year. In the U.S., over 180,000 men are expected to be diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2016. The highest rates of incidence are in developed countries—in part because of the rise of prostate specific antigen testing in those areas. However, mortality rates from prostate cancer are higher in less-developed regions, perhaps partly due to the lack of early diagnosis.

Another worldwide variation that may play a role in prostate cancer incidence and mortality is selenium. Selenium is an essential trace mineral that may help protect against cancer by reducing oxidative stress and DNA damage, enhancing immune response, and inducing apoptosis (death of damaged cells). The variability in selenium intake worldwide is largely attributable to differing levels of the mineral in soil.

An abundance of research has explored the connection between selenium levels and prostate cancer, but results have not been straightforward. Some have found that selenium supplementation is associated with increased risk of high-grade prostate cancer, but only in men with the highest baseline selenium levels. Other research found that supplementation is related to lower prostate cancer risk in men with lower baseline selenium levels. Similarly complicated results have been found regarding blood levels of selenium.

In a 2016 study of Danish men with relatively low selenium intake, researchers investigated the effects of low plasma selenium levels on the risk of total, advanced, and high-grade prostate cancer, as well as all-cause and prostate cancer–specific mortality. They did not find plasma selenium levels to be associated with total or advanced prostate cancer risk, but higher selenium levels were associated with a lower risk of high-grade disease. In addition, higher plasma selenium levels were associated with a lower risk of all-cause, but not prostate cancer–specific, mortality.

Plasma selenium reflects recent exposure to selenium so the researchers also looked at selenoprotein P, the optimal measure of functional selenium status. They found higher levels of selenoprotein P to be associated with a lower risk of high-grade disease, but not with risk of, or mortality from, advanced prostate cancer.

Overall, this study did not find an association between higher blood selenium or selenoprotein P levels and reduce risk of total or advanced prostate cancer in a low selenium population. There was, however, an association between higher selenium and selenoprotein P levels and both a lower risk of high-grade disease and all-cause mortality. Selenium appears to offer some degree of benefit and is not associated with adverse outcomes in relation to prostate cancer.


Outzen M, Tjønneland A, Larsen EH, et al. Selenium status and risk of prostate cancer in a Danish population. Br J Nutr. 2016:1-9. [Epub ahead of print]


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