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TUESDAY, June 17, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- Selenium may help guard against breast cancer in people who are genetically predisposed to the disease.
That's what University of Illinois at Chicago researchers report in the June 15 issue of Cancer Research.
Selenium is a trace element found in foods such as liver, kidneys and certain kinds of nuts.
"For over 20 years, animal studies have shown that tiny amounts of selenium in the diet can suppress cancer in several types of organs. The animal data is very strong, but human data is just emerging," study co-author Alan Diamond, professor and head of human nutrition, says in a news release.
It's unclear just how selenium might help prevent cancer.
"We believe there are certain proteins in mammalian cells that contain selenium that can mediate the protective effects, but proving that is difficult," Diamond says.
In this study, he and fellow researcher Jun Hu examined the role played in breast cancer by a selenium-containing protein called glutathione peroxidase, which is selenium-dependent and acts as an antioxidant.
They did this by looking at a particular selenium-containing gene that encodes for selenium-containing proteins.
Using tissue samples, they compared the genes from 517 people who were cancer-free with the genes of 79 breast cancer patients.
They found there's a difference in the frequency of different versions of the genes of the cancer patients, compared with those without cancer. They also found those differences have a functional consequence. That suggests a person with a certain version of the gene may require more selenium in their diet to get the cancer-prevention benefits.
By identifying what version of the gene a person has, doctors may someday be able to prescribe an appropriate amount of selenium to provide protection against cancer.
Here's where you can learn more about selenium.