Toxic Alert

Friday 15 June 2012

In large doses, cadmium is carcinogenic. A study now shows that even chronic exposure to the heavy metal in low doses causes breast cancer. Dinsa Sachan speaks to Maggie C Louie, associate professor of biochemistry at Dominican University of California in the US, about the study

MAGGIE C LOUIEWhat were your key findings?

We have found a link between chronic exposure to cadmium, a common environmental contaminant, at low level and rapid breast cancer growth. The longer the breast cancer cells are exposed to cadmium, the more aggressive they become. This is relevant as people are not exposed to high levels unless they work in manufacturing plants.

How does cadmium cause cancer?

Under acute exposure, cadmium acts as a metalloestrogen and mimics the female hormone. Higher levels of estrogen promote breast cancer growth. We don’t know exactly what happens when there is chronic exposure to low doses of the metal. To find this, we used breast cancer cell lines. We found upon exposure, the cancer cells invade through the extracellular matrix. The cells also produce higher level of a protein associated with tumor invasion and metastasis. We have evidence that a dose between seven and 10 mole/litre over six months promotes breast cancer, but we need more evidence.

Can we reduce cadmium exposure?

People are exposed to it via contaminated air, water and food. For example, nickel-cadmium batteries should be properly recycled so that the metals do not leach into the groundwater and soil. Smoking should be minimised because cigarettes contain lots of cadmium.

Move from news to views and get in-depth reports on issues that matter to you, every fortnight.

Subscribe now »

We are a voice to you; you have been a support to us. Together we build journalism that is independent, credible and fearless. You can further help us by making a donation. This will mean a lot for our ability to bring you news, perspectives and analysis from the ground so that we can make change together.
Maggie C Louie

Maggie C Louie

Associate professor of biochemistry at Dominican University of California in the US

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.

Scroll To Top