Cadmium Mimics Estrogen-CANCER RISK

Metal Mimics Estrogen, May Pose Cancer Risk

Associated Press Monday, July 14, 2003; Page A14

The heavy metal cadmium, widely used in batteries and alloys, can affect rats in ways that mimic the female hormone estrogen, a new study has found.

Researchers said the study suggests the metal may be a risk factor for breast cancer. Scheduled for the August issue of the journal Nature Medicine, the study is being published online today.

"We never expected to see this strong a relationship, given how different the cadmium and estrogen compounds are," said Mary Beth Martin of Georgetown University. "Cadmium's ability to functionally mimic estrogen and its effect on cell growth is quite remarkable.

"What we saw suggests a direct link between low-dose cadmium exposure and increased risk of breast cancer," she said.

Cadmium has long raised environmental concerns because chronic exposure can lead to kidney damage and bone disease. But the study found that even relatively low doses of cadmium affected the mammary glands and sexual development of the animals.

The effects included an increase in weight of the uterus, changes in the lining of the uterus and increased density of the mammary glands. In rats exposed to cadmium while still in the womb, there were changes in their mammary glands and puberty began earlier than normal, Martin reported.

Previous studies in male rats showed prostate changes after administration of cadmium, she said.

Martin said it is too early to predict the metal would affect humans the same way it does rats, but the findings suggest it may be a hazard.

The World Health Organization warns against an exposure of more than 7 micrograms of cadmium per kilogram of weight per week. The rats were injected with the equivalent of 5 micrograms per kilogram of weight.

In the United States, dietary exposure to cadmium is estimated to range from 0.12 microgram to 0.49 microgram per kilogram daily.

The metal is common in pigments, alloys and batteries. It is also a contaminant in air and foods, particularly shellfish, liver and kidneys.

2003 The Washington Post Company

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