Harvard Health Letter

In Brief: Selenium: Maybe this mineral isn't such a gem after all

In Brief

Selenium: Maybe this mineral isn't such a gem after all

The purpose of the Nutritional Prevention of Cancer trial was to test whether taking the mineral selenium might protect people against the two most common types of skin cancer. Taking the 200-microgram (mcg) pills daily flopped for skin cancer prevention, but when researchers started to poke around in the data looking for other effects, they made a pleasant discovery: Men who had taken the selenium pills seemed to gain some protection against prostate cancer. Compared with the placebo group, the selenium takers were 63% less likely to have developed the cancer.

Researchers can find some intriguing associations in any set of data if they rummage around enough. But results from a variety of other studies have burnished selenium's reputation as a prostate cancer preventative.

The final word on selenium will probably come from the National Cancer Institute's Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention trial, a huge 35,000-man study that is testing selenium and vitamin E as a combination, as well as each by itself. Interim results could be reported earlier, but the study is not scheduled to be completed for several years.

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