Inorganic Arsenic and Basal Cell Carcinoma in Areas of Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia: A Case-Control Study

By Leonardi, Giovanni; Vahter, Marie et al. | Environmental Health Perspectives, May 2012 | Go to article overview

Inorganic Arsenic and Basal Cell Carcinoma in Areas of Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia: A Case-Control Study


Leonardi, Giovanni, Vahter, Marie, Clemens, Felicity, Goessler, Walter, Gurzau, Eugen, Hemminki, Kari, Hough, Rupert, Koppova, Kvetoslava, Kumar, Rajiv, Rudnai, Peter, Surdu, Simona, Fletcher, Tony, Environmental Health Perspectives


BACKGROUND: Inorganic arsenic (iAs) is a potent carcinogen, but there is a lack of information about cancer risk for concentrations < 100 [micro]g/L in drinking water.

OBJECTIVES: We aimed to quantify skin cancer relative risks in relation to iAs exposure < 100 [micro]g/L and the modifying effects of iAs metabolism.

METHODS: The Arsenic Health Risk Assessment and Molecular Epidemiology (ASHRAM) study, a case control study, was conducted in areas of Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia with reported presence of iAs in groundwater. Consecutively diagnosed cases of basal cell carcinoma (BCC) of the skin were histologically confirmed; controls were general surgery, orthopedic, and trauma patients who were frequency matched to cases by age, sex, and area of residence. Exposure indices were constructed based on information on iAs intake over the lifetime of participants. iAs metabolism status was classified based on urinary concentrations of merhylarsonic acid (MA) and dimethylarsinic acid (DMA). Associations were estimated by multivariable logistic regression.

RESULTS: A total of 529 cases with BCC and 540 controls were recruited for the study. BCC was positively associated with three indices of iAs exposure: peak daily iAs dose rate, cumulative iAs dose, and lifetime average water iAs concentration. The adjusted odds ratio per 10-[micro]g/L increase in average lifetime water iAs concentration was 1.18 (95% confidence interval: 1.08, 1.28). The estimated effect of iAs on cancer was stronger in participants with urinary markers indicating incomplete metabolism of iAs: higher percentage of MA in urine or a lower percentage of DMA.

CONCLUSION: We found a positive association between BCC and exposure to iAs through drinking water with concentrations < 100 [micro]g/L.

KEY WORDS: low-dose arsenic, metabolism, methylation, skin neoplasms, urine. Environ Health Perspect 120:721-726 (2012). http://dx.cloi.org/10.1289/e4.1103534 [Online 31 January 2012]

Inorganic arsenic (iAs) is a recognized carcinogen and toxicant [National Research Council (NRC) 2001; World Health Organization (WHO) International Programme on Chemical Safety 2001] that is commonly present in groundwater. Causal relationships between long-term elevated iAs exposure and cancer of the skin, lung, and bladder have been accepted [International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) 2004, 2009]. Although certain populations, such as in Bangladesh, West Bengal, Taiwan, parts of China, Argentina, and northern Chile, have been exposed to very high concentrations of iAs in drinking water (several hundred micrograms per liter) (IARC 2004), there is widespread exposure worldwide to low concentrations of iAs, in the range of 5-50 [micro]g/L in drinking water and 5-100 [micro]g/kg in food, especially cereals and vegetables (European Food Safety Authority 2009; Norton et al. 2010). The NRC risk assessment (NRC 2001) indicates a comparatively high cancer risk even at concentrations as low as 10 [micro]g/L in drinking water; however, these risk estimates, as well as current WHO, European Union, and U.S. drinking water guidelines (European Council 1998; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 2001; WHO 2011), are based on linear extrapolation of cancer risks at low doses in studies with relatively high iAs exposure, mainly in Taiwan (Chen et al. 1985, 1992; Chiou et al. 2001; Tseng et al. 1968; Wu et al. 1989). Concerns have been raised about the validity of such extrapolation, in part because accepted modes of action, which do not include direct DNA mutations, would be expected to result in a threshold dose response (Snow et al. 2005).

The effects of elevated iAs exposure on the risk of nonmelanoma skin cancer, mainly squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma (BCC), have been recognized in highly exposed populations for some time (Cabrera and Gomez 2003; Chen and Wang 1990; Chen et al. 1985, 2003; Guha Mazurnder et al. …

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