Researchers Find Surprising Link Between Antioxidants And Cancer

Researches found that cancer cells may benefit more from antioxidants than healthy cells. Image via Flickr available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license.

A study conducted by researchers at the Children’s Research Institute at UT Southwestern (CRI) suggests that cancer cells actually spread throughout the body when antioxidants have been administered. The researchers state that pro-oxidants should be used to treat cancer patients instead. The mice used in the study were observed to have experienced high levels of oxidative stress. When antioxidants had been administered, the cancer cells were found to have spread more quickly in the mice that received the antioxidants than in the mice that had not received it. CRI director and Mary McDermott Cook Chair in Pediatric Genetics, Dr. Sean Morrison stated:

“We discovered that metastasizing melanoma cells experience very high levels of oxidative stress, which leads to the death of most metastasizing cells… Administration of antioxidants to the mice allowed more of the metastasizing melanoma cells to survive, increasing metastatic disease burden.”

Dr. Sean Morrison noted that,

“Some of those trials had to be stopped because the patients getting the antioxidants were dying faster. Our data suggest the reason for this: cancer cells benefit more from antioxidants than normal cells do.”

The study acknowledges that those who are healthy do not cease to benefit from antioxidants. Yet, it questions the ongoing treatment of cancer patients with antioxidants, stating that,

“This finding also opens up the possibility that when treating cancer, we should test whether increasing oxidative stress through the use of pro-oxidants would prevent metastasis… One potential approach is to target the folate pathway that melanoma cells use to survive oxidative stress, which would increase the level of oxidative stress in the cancer cells.”

The study was published in Nature, entitled “Oxidative stress inhibits distant metastasis by human melanoma cells.”

In the published study, the article notes that most cancer cells enter through the bloodstream

“…and disseminate systemically, but are highly inefficient at forming distant metastases for poorly understood reasons… We show that melanomas had high frequencies of cells that formed subcutaneous tumours, but much lower percentages of cells that formed tumours after intravenous or intrasplenic transplantation, particularly among inefficiently metastasizing melanomas. Melanoma cells in the blood and visceral organs experienced oxidative stress not observed in established subcutaneous tumours.”

It is widely known that cancer cells that spread through the bloodstream die. Essentially, the study notes that the malignant tumors had “high frequencies” of cells that form tumors under the skin, yet were less rendered when the cells had been transplanted into the blood. Hinting at the oxidative stress being much more present in the bloodstream, where they could not effectively form tumors than in the area in which tumors had been situated.


Elijah Martinez is a MasterChef and Law and Order:SVU aficionado. Elijah is a full-time student and a polyglot, speaking and writing English, Spanish, and Latin. French and Korean are of interest, the former is a current study, while the latter is a deferred study.