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Low dietary intake of selenium has been proposed as a risk factor for breast cancer. To address this hypothesis, we collected toenail clippings from 62 641 women in the Nurses’ Health Study cohort who were free from cancer (other than nonmelanoma skin cancer) in 1982 and 1983. The selenium concentration in nails has been shown to reflect dietary intake of selenium. During 53 months of follow-up, 434 cases of breast cancer were diagnosed among women who had submitted a set of toenail clippings, and we matched one control free from breast and other cancers to each case. The mean selenium level in toenails in the cases (0.823 μg/g; SD, 0.197) was almost identical to that of the controls (0.821 μg/g; SD, 0.174). After controlling for known breast cancer risk factors, the relative risk for women in the highest quintile of selenium as compared with the lowest quintile was 1.10 (95% confidence interval, 0.70 to 1.72) and there was no trend across quintiles. Results were similar for both premenopausal and postmenopausal women. Although these data do not exclude a possible influence of selenium intake before adulthood on subsequent risk of breast cancer, selenium intake later in life is not likely to be an important factor in the etiology of breast cancer. © 1990, American Medical Association. All rights reserved.

Original publication




Journal article


JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association

Publication Date





1128 - 1131