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September 1989

Circulating Levels of Selenium and Zinc in Relation to Nutritional Status in Patients With Head and Neck Cancer

Author Affiliations

From the Departments of Oto-Rhino-Laryngology (Drs Westin and Edström), Clinical Nutrition (Dr Sandström and Mss Ahlbom and Johansson), and Surgery (Dr Karlberg), Sahlgrenska Hospital, Göteborg, Sweden.

Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 1989;115(9):1079-1082. doi:10.1001/archotol.1989.01860330069019

• There is evidence that selenium and zinc are involved in malignant neoplasia. The exact role of these trace elements, however, is not completely understood. For this reason, we studied circulating levels of selenium and zinc in relation to food intake and nutritional status in 14 patients with head and neck cancer. Six patients without cancer served as controls. The patients with cancer were in different stages of disease. They were untreated or in an initial phase of oncologic treatment. Five of these patients were severely cachectic according to weight loss and nutritional status, which included body mass index, anthropometric values, and serum albumin level. These patients also demonstrated decreased circulating levels of selenium and zinc. Plasma glutathione peroxidase (selenium-dependent enzyme) activity, however, was not significantly different when the cachectic patients with cancer were compared with controls. We found that the plasma selenium level was positively correlated to both short-term and long-term selenium intake when all 20 patients were accounted for. However, no significant correlation could be shown between plasma selenium and serum albumin levels. Although only one patient demonstrated a plasma value below the reference value, serum zinc was positively correlated to the serum albumin level. We conclude that plasma selenium concentrations are essentially related to food intake but not necessarily to weight loss. Low circulating levels of zinc are, rather, associated with the catabolic state of the patient with cancer.

(Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 1989;115:1079-1082)