Antioxidants and Cancer: A Complex Process

© Dave Bredeson |

© Dave Bredeson |

A big story in oncology medical news this year came from Nobel laureate James Watson, PhD.  His findings showed that levels of antioxidants in metastatic cancer cells are responsible for resistance to treatment.  As cancer cells evolve, they produce antioxidant proteins such as glutathione, superoxide dismutase, catalase, and thioredoxin that prevent cell death caused by treatments.  He theorizes that metastatic cancer in the late stages may be untreatable due to the high levels of these antioxidants in the cancer cells.  He warns that consuming antioxidants in the diet may “more likely cause than prevent cancer”.  His  theory was published online January 8 in Open Biology.

Maurie Markman, MD, national director for medical oncology at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, who writes the Medscape Markman on Oncology blog, commented on the theory.

“The importance of the critical relationship between oxidating activity and antioxidants in the normal functioning of cells has been recognized by many investigators, and it is not surprising that this process would be quite relevant in cancer. However, it must be emphasized that this is a very complex process and the balance between these powerful influences at the cellular level is certain to be very carefully controlled. Further, it should be noted that antioxidants are components of our normal diets. Finally, while a provocative concept, it is most unlikely that a simple approach to somehow removing antioxidants from the body will be a useful strategy in cancer management,” he explained.


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