Toxicological principles of metal carcinogenesis with special emphasis on cadmium

Crit Rev Toxicol. 1992;22(3-4):175-201. doi: 10.3109/10408449209145323.


Metals are an important and emerging class of carcinogens. At least three metals, specifically nickel, chromium, and arsenic, are confirmed human carcinogens, and several more are suspected to have carcinogenic potential in man. Considering that the list of known human carcinogens of any type is very small, it becomes clear that metals make up a substantial portion of the list. Furthermore, many metals are very potent carcinogens in laboratory animals. Despite this, relatively little attention has been given to the topic of metal carcinogenesis. The reasons for this relative lack of attention are not clear but perhaps are fostered by a perception that, because metals are the simplest of molecules, their mechanism of action must also be simple. This could not be farther from the truth and, although no clear mechanisms have emerged in the area of metal carcinogenesis, it has become apparent that they are anything but simple. Metal carcinogens possess several unique characteristics including a remarkable target site specificity. Detection of the mechanism, or mechanisms, of metal carcinogenesis has, however, proven elusive, in part because of a wide diversity of metallic carcinogenic agents and the intricate nature of metal interactions in biologic systems. The following review explores this broad topic, with special emphasis on toxicological principles including dose-response relationships and potential mechanisms, using cadmium as an example.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arsenic / adverse effects
  • Cadmium / adverse effects*
  • Cadmium / chemistry
  • Cadmium / pharmacokinetics
  • Chromium / adverse effects
  • Confounding Factors, Epidemiologic
  • DNA / drug effects*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug Interactions
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Lung Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Lung Diseases / epidemiology
  • Lung Neoplasms / chemically induced*
  • Lung Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Metals / adverse effects*
  • Metals / metabolism
  • Metals / pharmacokinetics
  • Mice
  • Mutagenesis
  • Neoplasms / chemically induced*
  • Nickel / adverse effects
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Rats


  • Metals
  • Cadmium
  • Chromium
  • Nickel
  • DNA
  • Arsenic