Three new studies released in as many months add to increasing evidence that exposure to certain toxic metals can increase the risk and spread of breast cancer and infertility in women and men.
Cadmium and Breast Cancer
A Swedish study of over 56,000 women found that consuming the toxic metal cadmium in the foods you eat may raise your risk for breast cancer by as much as 27%. Researchers believe that cadmium may mimic the effects of the female hormone estrogen, which can fuel the growth of certain breast cancers.
The 12-year study had women fill out food intake questionnaires that researchers used to estimate how much cadmium they consumed in their diets. There were 2,112 cases of breast cancer reported during the follow-up period of which 1,626 were estrogen receptor-positive and 290 estrogen receptor-negative cancers. Women with the highest amounts of cadmium in their diets were 21% more likely to develop breast cancer than women who had the least. The risk increased to 27% among women who were also lean or normal-weight.
Interestingly, the cadmium source was a contributing factor in increasing cancer risk. Women who consumed higher amounts of whole grain and vegetables had a lower risk of breast cancer compared to women that consumed dietary cadmium through other foods.
"It's possible that this healthy diet to some extent can counteract the negative effect of cadmium, but our findings need to be confirmed with further studies," study author Agneta Akesson, an associate professor at Karolinska Institute in Sweden.
Another study found that exposure to low levels of cadmium over your lifetime may spur the growth and spread of some breast cancer cells.
According to their research, breast cancer cells can pass through the outer barrier of the breast after prolonged cadmium exposure. It appears that cadmium may affect levels of SDF-1, a protein associated with tumor invasion and cancer spread.
Cadmium, Lead and Fertility
Researchers studying the effects of serum levels of heavy metals on fertility in couples trying to conceive found that, in the women, the probability of pregnancy was reduced by 22 percent with each increase in the blood cadmium concentration. In men, the probability of conceiving was reduced by 15 percent for each increase in their blood lead concentration.
Based on their findings, the researches recommended that men and women planning to have children should minimize their exposure to lead and cadmium.
Cadmium is released into the environment from mining and metal processing operations, burning fuels, making and using phosphate fertilizers, and disposing of metal products. Cadmium can enter the body from eating and drinking food and water containing cadmium, and inhaling it from the air. The skin does not easily absorb cadmium.
- Smoking is the most important single source of cadmium exposure so not smoking and avoiding second- and third-hand smoke is a good place to start.
- As most dietary exposure to cadmium is due to soil contamination from fertilizers, choose organic foods whenever possible.
- Some of the main sources of cadmium in the diet are bread and other cereals, potatoes, root crops and vegetables.
- Avoid shellfish and organ meats like liver or kidney which also contain more cadmium than other foods.
- Cadmium is also used in batteries, metal coatings, paints and plastics. People living near plants that manufacture these products may be exposed to cadmium in the air, water and soil.
- If your drinking water comes from a private well near a source of cadmium, you may want to have the water tested. Public water systems test for cadmium on a regular basis. If you live near a source of cadmium, you may want to have your garden soil tested for cadmium before eating home-grown produce.
- Cadmium and other toxic substances are often found in cosmetics and personal products.
Common sources of exposure to lead in the United States include lead-based paints in older homes, lead-glazed pottery, and contaminated soil and water. Learn how protect your family in our post about the continuing problem of lead exposure.
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Illinois Department of Health