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Heavy Metals and Lung Cancer

Do heavy metals cause lung cancer? The human body requires some metals such as zinc, selenium, and copper, but only in trace amounts. It is when the body accumulates large quantities of toxic metals that health problems will occur.

Defining Heavy Metals

Heavy metals refers to metallic, high density elements that are toxic and poisonous at low concentrations. Some heavy metals are arsenic, lead, mercury, chromium, and cadmium. Heavy metals enter into the body through water and food, and even through skin contact. The metal concentration in the body increases with exposure, as they remain in the body. Heavy metals are absorbed in the body faster than they can be discharged. That build-up effect is the reason heavy metal exposure is so toxic and dangerous.

Heavy Metals and Lung Cancer

The body requires proper minerals and nutrients for proper function. Toxic metals in the body interrupt the function of essential nutrients. Different types of cancers, including lung cancer, have been linked to toxic metals accumulating in the body

Cancer results from the heavy metals attaching to a cell’s DNA and causing mutations. The direct and indirect damage to the DNA means an increased risk of cancer. This process is called genotoxicity. Several heavy metals are known to be carcinogenic.

Heavy Metals with Harmful Effects

  • Arsenic and arsenic compounds – along with lung cancers, arsenic causes skin conditions and can lead to death. Workplace exposure to arsenic occurs through inhalation, ingestion, or contact with skin. Arsenic can contaminate water supplies, which is a reason the United States lowered admissible levels of arsenic in drinking water.
  • Cadmium – research has shown a direct relationship between cadmium and lung cancer, as well as other lung conditions. If cadmium is absorbed in high doses, it remains inside the body for a long period. This is why it is called biopersistent. Tobacco smoke is an important source of cadmium exposure. The lungs absorb cadmium; as much as 50 percent of the cadmium in a cigarette is inhaled. People who smoke often have higher levels of cadmium in the blood than non-smokers. Smoking has been linked to lung cancers.
  • Chromium – a form of chromium called hexavalant chromium increases the risk of lung cancer in people who breathe in the heavy metal over a period of time. It can also harm the throat, eyes, and skin. The hexavalant chromium is a major contaminant, but other forms of chromium are also carcinogens.
  • Beryllium – another metal with links to lung infections and lung cancers. Beryllium interferes with vitamin D absorption and calcium metabolism. It also affects the function of other vital organs.

Heavy metals are in the environment. Being aware of the potential for cancers and leading a healthy lifestyle can mitigate some of the damaging factors of heavy metals.