The role of combined metal interactions in metal carcinogenesis: a review

Rev Environ Health. 2003 Apr-Jun;18(2):91-109. doi: 10.1515/reveh.2003.18.2.91.


Exposures to complex mixtures of metals in the workplace or environment are more likely to occur than exposures to a single metal alone. The evidence shows that exposures to complex metal mixtures can enhance the risk of cancer in certain human populations. The findings of several studies have suggested, however, that certain metal-metal interactions can inhibit carcinogenic activity. The mechanisms of metal-metal interactions in human carcinogenesis are relatively unknown. Metals represent a highly diverse group of agents: each metal can act through different mechanisms and in one or more steps of the carcinogenic process. Some potential mechanisms may involve direct reactions of the metal with DNA or indirect mechanisms that include modification of DNA repair, DNA methylation status, and metabolic processes involved in DNA replication and expression. Lipid peroxidation and the generation of free radicals induced by certain metals can affect DNA integrity. This review will address the role of metals in carcinogenesis and how concomitant exposure to metal mixtures can influence cancer induction. The most current mechanistic data regarding metal interactions and its implications in human carcinogenesis will be discussed. Furthermore, research gaps will be identified to provide data that will improve risk assessments for complex metal mixtures encountered in the workplace and environment.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic*
  • DNA Damage*
  • DNA Methylation
  • DNA Repair
  • Drug Interactions
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Free Radicals
  • Humans
  • Lipid Peroxidation
  • Metals, Heavy / toxicity*
  • Neoplasms* / physiopathology*
  • Occupational Exposure
  • Risk Assessment
  • Workplace


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Free Radicals
  • Metals, Heavy