Selenium Status and Liver Cancer Risk in Europe

Selenium status and liver cancer risk may be connected, say researchers in Europe. “Selenium is suboptimal in many Europeans and may be a risk factor for the development of various cancers, including those of the liver and biliary tract,” according to The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The study, published in July 2016, found that higher serum selenium status is associated with decreased risk of developing liver cancer (particularly hepatocellular carcinoma). The results were the same even when all other major liver cancer risk factors were taken in to account.

“The research findings tentatively suggest that where selenium is suboptimal, increasing selenium intake may be a further strategy for liver cancer prevention in addition to avoiding alcohol consumption, maintaining a healthy body weight, and stopping smoking,” said lead researcher Dr David Hughes of the Department of Physiology and Centre for Systems Medicine of the RCSI in Dublin, Ireland.

Selenium Status and Liver Cancer Risk Among Europeans

The study, based on the EPIC cohort, included more than half a million participants across 10 European countries. The study used a case–control design of 121 liver cancers and 140 gall bladder and biliary tract cancers matched to equal numbers of individuals free of cancer within the cohort.

selenium status and liver cancer risk Europeans may be at greater risk for liver cancer because of suboptimal serum selenium. The researchers noted that soil selenium levels tend to be low in many regions in Europe. This may contribute to lower selenium status and liver cancer risk,  when compared with people living in regions with higher soil selenium concentrations, such as North America.

Liver Cancer, Second Most Common

Liver cancer is the second most common cause of death from cancer globally and is responsible for nearly 746 000 deaths in 2012 (9.1% of all cancer-related deaths that year). The prognosis for liver cancer is very poor (with an overall ratio of mortality to incidence of 0.95), so the geographical patterns in incidence and mortality are very similar.

“The incidence of liver cancers is increasing in developed countries. Liver cancers are often diagnosed at late stages and have limited treatment options,” says IARC scientist Dr Mazda Jenab, one of the study’s authors. “Further research is needed into the modifiable determinants of these cancers and effective prevention strategies.”

"In humans, selenium is essential, particularly for the effective functioning of the immune system and in controlling oxidative processes linked to cancer development," said the researchers. The study did not make a health recommendation and noted that this is a single study with a modest number of liver cancers, and thus the results need to be validated by more research.

The research is a joint project involving the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), Charité Medical School Berlin, and collaborators in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC).


  1. Hughes DJ, Duarte-Salles T, Hybsier S, Trichopoulou A, Stepien M, Aleksandrova K, et al. (2016). Prediagnostic selenium status and hepatobiliary cancer risk in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition cohort. Am J Clin Nutr.
  2. Ferlay J, Soerjomataram I, Ervik M, Dikshit R, Eser S, Mathers C, et al. (2013). GLOBOCAN 2012 v1.0, Cancer Incidence and Mortality Worldwide: IARC CancerBase No. 11 [Internet]. Lyon, France: International Agency for Research on Cancer.
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