Tumorigenesis due to deficiencies of various minerals has been reported, among them selenium (50), iron (51), zinc (52), and molybdenum (53). Data regarding others are sparse but available (5). Antitumor effects of selenium in experimental carcinogenesis have also been reported (54,55). A recently reported clinical trial designed to test the efficacy of dietary selenium treatment for prevention of skin cancer found no effect with regard to the stated objective (56). However, selenium treatment proved efficacious against other forms of cancer. A total of 1312 patients with basal or squamous cell carcinomas were treated with a selenium-containing preparation. Cancer incidence in the selenium-treated group was 77 cases compared with 119 cases in the controls, a highly significant difference. All-cause mortality was lower in the selenium-treated individuals (108 vs 129 in controls). Total cancer deaths numbered 29 in the treated group compared with 57 in the placebo group. Over the total observation period of treatment (4.5 ± 2.8 years) and follow-up (6.4 ± 2.0 years), mortality from colorectal or prostate cancer was significantly lower in the treatment group. Total cancer incidence and mortality were reduced significantly. Considering the original aims of the study, the results were serendipitous and most welcome but illustrate some of the vagaries of nutrition-cancer research. A difficulty with studies of trace minerals is that there is a fine line between necessity and toxicity. Efforts to synthesize mineral-containing compounds with lower toxicity are under way.

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