Can Cadmium, An Environmental Contaminant, Influence Breast Cancer Cell Growth?

Recent research presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology reported that breast cancer cells became increasingly aggressive the longer they were exposed to small concentrations of cadmium, a heavy metal found in food, water, air and cosmetics.  This research builds upon earlier research that found a reaction between acute cadmium exposure and breast cancer cell aggression.  Estrogen receptors activation showed a similar hormonal response to low levels of long term cadmium exposure as they had to acute exposure.  In the process of the growth of epithelial cells in normal mammary glands there are circulating levels of estrogen, a hormone produced by the ovaries,  that modulate the growth process and the estrogen is stimulated by estrogen receptors (ER).  Cadmium, like some other heavy metals, can act as an endocrine disruptor and mimic estrogen, thereby disrupting the hormone dependent pathways.

Findings are important because many of the exposures to cadium by women  are low levels over a long period of time (chronic instead of acute).Cadium is mainly a byproduct of mining, smelting, and refining metals such as zinc, lead, and copper and rock mining to produce fertilizer. In addition, cadmium can be found in rechargeable batteries, and cigarette smoke and enters the body through consumption of contaminated food, or water or inhaled as cigarette smoke.

When combined with other studies results show that cadmium has a significant role in the development of breast cancer. The researcher says “Many of us are exposed to very low levels of cadmium from the environment on a daily basis,and our research shows that even small concentrations of this metal at [prolonged exposures can cause breast cancer cell growth.”

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