Selenium and Radiation Therapy for Cancer Patients

Cancer patients tend to have reduced serum selenium concentrations compared to healthy controls. Adjuvant selenium supplementation improves the protection of healthy tissue in tumor patients undergoing radiation therapy [Muecke 2018].

Cologne cathedral in Germany
15 years of experience with adjuvant selenium supplementation in radiation oncology in Germany has yielded a solid knowledge database. As a result,  some radiation oncologists measure the patient’s selenium levels during therapy and compensate in cases of selenium deficiency. Even so, it is important to remember that selenium status is  a relatively small piece in the bigger puzzle of therapeutic success in radiation oncology.

In a 2018 review of 15-years of experience with selenium supplementation in radiation oncology, Muecke et al [2018] reported on two randomized controlled trials. The researchers observed positive effects of the supplemental selenium and no adverse effects in the patients undergoing radiation therapy:

  • 81 patients with uterine cancer
  • 39 patients with head and neck tumors
Selenium Deficit in Cancer Patients

In the majority of the tumor patients (carcinomas of the uterus, head and neck, lungs, rectum or prostate) whom they examined, German researchers found a relative selenium deficit in whole blood or serum [Muecke 2018].

Correction of Selenium Deficit in Cancer Patients

Muecke et al noted the following outcomes of selenium supplementation in the two treatment groups [Muecke 2018].

  • The adjuvant selenium supplementation successfully corrected the selenium deficiency in the patients analyzed.
  • The adjuvant selenium supplementation was associated with decreased radiotherapy-induced diarrhea in the study of radiotherapy patients with carcinomas of the uterus.
  • The survival data in the two studies implied that selenium supplementation did not interfere with radiation success.
  • The supplemental selenium was associated with the prevention of radiation-induced ageusia (loss of taste) and dysphagia (difficulty swallowing) in the study of patients with head and neck cancer.
  • The researchers did not observe any adverse effects of supplemental selenium in the studies.
What is a Selenium Deficit?

Muecke et al [2018] regard whole blood selenium concentrations of 110-130 mcg/L to be the normal reference range.

  • Most of the patients with the different tumors (head and neck, lung, rectal,  uterus, and prostate) had lower blood selenium levels.
  • Typically, the tissue selenium concentrations were elevated in the carcinomas as compared to the selenium concentrations in the compartments surrounding the carcinomas.
  • The researchers measured lower selenium concentrations in the prostate tissues from patients with benign prostatic hyperplasia than in the prostate carcinoma tissue of prostate cancer patients. Moreover, the blood selenium and selenoprotein P concentrations were lower in prostate cancer patients as compared to healthy controls.
Conclusion: Adjuvant Selenium Therapy in Cancer Patients Given Radiation Therapy

Muecke et al [2018] concluded that selenium supplementation yielded promising results concerning radiation therapy for tumor patients.

  • The researchers considered selenium supplementation to be a promising adjuvant treatment option in patients with a relative selenium deficit.
  • Given the marginal selenium intake of many Europeans, the majority of cancer patients in Europe is likely to benefit from supplemental selenium.
  • If recommended dosages are used before and during radiation therapy, there is very little danger of over-supplementation.
  • Fifteen years of experience in Germany with selenium supplementation during radiation therapy has given a solid knowledge base for selenium supplementation before and during radiation therapy in patients with low selenium status.

Muecke R, Micke O, Schomburg L, Buentzel J, Kisters K, Adamietz IA. Selenium in radiation oncology—15 years of experiences in Germany. Nutrients. 2018;10:483.

The information presented in this review article is not intended as medical advice and should not be used as such.

15 June 2023

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