Selenium has been suggested to be anticarcinogenic and to play a role in the cellular defense against oxidative stress. The association between toenail selenium (a marker of long-term selenium status) and lung cancer was investigated in a cohort study of diet and cancer that started in 1986 among 120,852 Dutch men and women aged 55–69 years. After 3.3 years of follow-up, 550 incident cases of lung carcinoma were detected. Toenail selenium data were available for 370 lung cancer cases and 2459 members of a randomly selected subcohort. The rate ratio of lung cancer for subjects in the highest compared to the lowest quintile of toenail selenium, after controlling for age, gender, smoking, and education, was 0.50 (95% confidence interval, 0.30–0.81), with a significant inverse trend across quintiles (P = 0.006). The protective effect of selenium was concentrated in subjects with a relatively low dietary intake of β-carotene or vitamin C. The rate ratio in the highest compared to the lowest quintile of selenium was 0.45 in the low β-carotene group (95% confidence interval, 0.22–0.92; trend P = 0.028) and 0.36 in the low vitamin C group (95% confidence interval, 0.17–0.75; trend P < 0.001). The results of this study support an inverse association between selenium status and lung cancer and suggest a modification of the effect of selenium by the antioxidants β-carotene and vitamin C.

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Supported by the Dutch Cancer Society and the European Commission (“Europe against Cancer”).

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