Chemoprotective effects of selenium have been indicated by an epidemiological relationship, RCTs and by experimental studies of selenium and known carcinogens in the development of specific cell lines. Overall, it appears that selenium works by inhibiting important early steps in carcinogenesis.

Several mechanisms have been postulated to explain the chemopreventative effect of selenium, including protection against oxidative damage, alterations to immune and metabolic systems, alterations to carcinogen metabolism, production of cytotoxic selenium metabolites, inhibition of protein synthesis, stabilisation of genetic material and stimulation of apoptosis (Clark et al 1996, El Bayoumy 2001, Schrauzer 2000). One study demonstrated that combining vitamin E succinate and methylselenic acid produces a synergistic effect on cell growth suppression, primarily mediated by augmenting apoptosis (Zu & Ip 2003).

In humans, the chemopreventative effect is strongest for individuals with the lowest selenium status; however, it is still unclear whether low selenium status is implicated in the aetiology of cancer or whether it produces a state of increased susceptibility to the effects of carcinogens.

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