Metal in shellfish may boost endometrial cancer risk

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Women with high levels of cadmium—a metal commonly found in foods such as kidneys, liver, and shellfish, as well as tobacco—may have an increased risk of endometrial cancer, a new study suggests.

The findings could lead to new treatments or interventions to prevent the fourth most common cancer in women.

“…we found a statistically significant increased risk of the cancer associated with a woman’s cadmium levels…”

“Cadmium is an estrogen-mimicking chemical, meaning it imitates estrogen and its effects on the body,” says Jane McElroy, associate professor in the family and community medicine department at the University of Missouri School of Medicine.

“Endometrial cancer has been associated with estrogen exposure. Because cadmium mimics estrogen, it may lead to an increased growth of the endometrium, contributing to an increased risk of endometrial cancer,” McElroy says.

The research team, whose study appears in PLOS ONE, partnered with cancer registries in Missouri, Arkansas, and Iowa to identify cases of endometrial cancer. The researchers enrolled 631 women with a history of endometrial cancer and 879 women without a history of the cancer to serve as a control group.

Participants were asked to complete a survey of more than 200 questions about risk factors potentially associated with endometrial cancer. Once they completed the questionnaire, they were sent a kit to collect urine and saliva samples. The researchers then analyzed the samples for cadmium levels.

“When comparing the cadmium levels of the individuals with endometrial cancer to the control group, we found a statistically significant increased risk of the cancer associated with a woman’s cadmium levels,” says McElroy, the study’s lead author. “We found the rate of endometrial cancer incidence increased by 22 percent in individuals with increased cadmium levels.”

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While more research is needed to better understand the risks associated with cadmium, there are steps women can take to limit their cadmium-associated cancer risks.

“We all have cadmium present in our kidneys and livers, but smoking has been shown to more than double a person’s cadmium exposure,” McElroy says.

“Also, we recommend being attentive to your diet, as certain foods such as shellfish, kidney, and liver can contain high levels of cadmium. You don’t necessarily need to cut these from your diet, but eat them in moderation. This is especially true if women have a predisposition to endometrial cancer, such as a family history, diabetes, or obesity.”

The American Cancer Society and the National Science Foundation funded the work. The researchers have no conflicts of interest to declare related to this study. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the funding agencies.

Source: University of Missouri