Reactive oxygen species (ROS) are well known for their capacity to cause DNA damage, augment mutagenesis, and thereby promote oncogenic transformation. Similarly, agents that reduce ROS levels (antioxidants) are frequently thought to have anti-cancer properties given their propensity to minimize DNA damage and mutagenesis. However, numerous clinical studies focused on antioxidants suggest that this is a facile premise and that antioxidant capacity can be important for cancer cells in a similar fashion to normal cells. As a consequence of this realization, numerous laboratories have been motivated to investigate the biological underpinnings explaining how and when antioxidant activity can potentially be beneficial to cancer cells. Relatedly, it has become clear that the reliance of cancer cells on antioxidant activity in certain contexts represents a potential vulnerability that could be exploited for therapeutic gain. Here, we review some of the recent, exciting findings documenting how cancer cells utilized antioxidant activity and under what circumstances this activity could represent an opportunity for selective elimination of cancer cells.
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