Abstract The extended use of metallic biomaterials yields to increasing sources of metal ions within the human body and may result in inflammation of the surrounding tissues, cell damage, and cancer. The aim of this study was to investigate the relationship between the radial diffusion of metal ions released from a metal disk by the corrosion process and the toxic effect on a cell line that grew around it. Results obtained with the metal disks (direct contact) were compared with assays made with extracts obtained from the dissolution of a metallic sample ex situ and then added to the cell culture to elucidate the cause of apparent inconsistencies in previous reports. The change of copper concentration due to corrosion and transient diffusion of copper ions from the copper disks into the cell line was evaluated according to Fick's 2nd law. Surviving cells distribution was interpreted considering the radial and time-dependence of copper concentration. We concluded that the toxic effect on those cells close to metallic biomaterials may be underestimated when only the extract methodology is employed for cytotoxic tests or when during the experiments with disks the presence of concentration gradients and the non-homogeneous distribution of dead cells are disregarded.