Breast Cancer Coverage from Every Angle

Higher Exposure to Toxic Metals May Equal Higher Breast Cancer Risk

By: Celeste L. Dixon
Posted: Friday, October 11, 2019

Researchers have uncovered evidence of an association between living in an area with ambient toxic heavy metals and a greater likelihood of developing breast cancer. Using data from the “racially and ethnically diverse” Metropolitan Chicago Breast Cancer Registry, epidemiologist Garth Rauscher, PhD, of the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health, and colleagues noted that compared with non-Hispanic white women, African American and Hispanic women were more likely to reside in census tracts with higher quartile ambient concentrations of beryllium, cadmium, chromium, lead, manganese, and mercury (P < .001 for all). Consequently, the association was most pronounced in the study cohort among those women.

In age- and race-adjusted models, compared with women residing in census tracts with the lowest quartile of ambient concentrations, an increased breast cancer incidence was observed for women residing in census tracts with the highest quartile of particular ambient concentrations, noted the researchers. These metals were beryllium (hazard ratio = 1.09), cadmium (hazard ratio = 1.07), lead (hazard ratio = 1.18), nickel (hazard ratio = 1.24; associated with census tracts in which Hispanic women were more likely to reside), and antimony (hazard ratio = 1.08). The results were reported in San Francisco at the 2019American Association for Cancer Research Conference (AACR) on the Science of Cancer Health Disparities in Racial/Ethnic Minorities and the Medically Underserved.

Between 2003 and 2007, 211,674 women enrolled in the registry were followed until they developed breast cancer or December 31, 2014. More than one-quarter of women were African American, and nearly 10% were Hispanic, reported Dr. Rauscher and his team. Ultimately, 6,579 cases of breast cancer were reported over a mean follow-up of 10 years.

Additionally, “in models stratified by estrogen receptor (ER) status and menopausal status, associations with beryllium, lead, and nickel were stronger for ER-positive postmenopausal breast cancer. Associations with antimony and cadmium were stronger for ER-negative breast cancer risk,” wrote the authors.

Disclosure: The study authors’ disclosure information can be found at

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