Iron is required for life by humans and many other organisms, including cancer cells and most bacteria. By virtue of its incorporation into hemoglobin, it plays a central role in oxygen and carbon dioxide transport by red blood cells. Iron is also a part of several key enzymes, including the antioxidant enzyme catalase and enzymes active in energy production, metabolism, and DNA synthesis. Furthermore, iron plays an important role in many redox reactions. Through these means, iron, essential as it is in human health, when present in excess can also play a role in cancer initiation and progression.
A large number of animal and human studies have reported that elevated iron levels are associated with increased risk of developing cancer.62,63,64 Furthermore, increased iron loading may assist cancer progression and is associated with poor prognosis in some cancers.65-68, a Lastly, increased iron loading in cancer patients has been associated with increased risk of fungal or other infections.69,70,71 The potential mechanisms for these detrimental effects include increased generation of ROS (reactive oxygen species), increased iron for DNA synthesis, and immune suppression induced by high iron levels.66,72 Therefore, anti-iron therapies may be useful in reducing cell transformation, cancer progression, and secondary effects of cancer like infection. However, since human life also requires iron, there is a limit to how far iron concentrations can be reduced. Thus there may be an optimal low level of tissue iron to strive for in cancer patients.
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