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Journal of Environmental Science and Health, Part C: Environmental Carcinogenesis and Ecotoxicology Reviews







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Natural Sciences and Mathematics


During the last half-century, incidences of breast cancer have increased globally. Various factors —genetic and environmental— have been implicated in the initiation and progression of this disease. One potential environmental risk factor that has not received a lot of attention is the exposure to heavy metals. While several mechanisms have been put forth describing how high concentrations of heavy metals play a role in carcinogenesis, it is unclear whether chronic, lowlevel exposure to certain heavy metals (i.e. cadmium and nickel), can directly result in the development and progression of cancer. Cadmium and nickel have been hypothesized to play a role in breast cancer development by acting as metalloestrogens— metals that bind to estrogen receptors and mimic the actions of estrogen. Since the lifetime exposure to estrogen is a wellestablished risk factor for breast cancer, anything that mimics its activity will likely contribute to the etiology of the disease. However, heavy metals, depending on their concentration, are capable of binding to a variety of proteins and may exert their toxicities by disrupting multiple cellular functions, complicating the analysis of whether heavy metal-induced carcinogenesis is mediated by the estrogen receptor. The purpose of this review is to discuss the various epidemiological, in vivo, and in vitro studies that show a link between the heavy metals, cadmium and nickel, and breast cancer development. We will particularly focus on the studies that test whether or not these two metals act as metalloestrogens in order to assess the strength of the data supporting this hypothesis.

Publisher Statement

Originally published as Aquino, N.B., Sevigny, M.B., Sabangan, J., Louie, M.C. The Role of Cadmium and Nickel in Estrogen Receptor Signaling and Breast Cancer: Metalloestrogens or Not? Journal of Environmental Science and Health, Part C: Environmental Carcinogenesis and Ecotoxicology Reviews 2012 30(3): 189-224.