Carcinogenic and systemic health effects associated with arsenic exposure--a critical review

Toxicol Pathol. Nov-Dec 2003;31(6):575-88. doi: 10.1080/01926230390242007.


Arsenic and arsenic containing compounds are human carcinogens. Exposure to arsenic occurs occupationally in several industries, including mining, pesticide, pharmaceutical, glass and microelectronics, as well as environmentally from both industrial and natural sources. Inhalation is the principal route of arsenic exposure in occupational settings, while ingestion of contaminated drinking water is the predominant source of significant environmental exposure globally. Drinking water contamination by arsenic remains a major public health problem. Acute and chronic arsenic exposure via drinking water has been reported in many countries of the world, where a large proportion of drinking water is contaminated with high concentrations of arsenic. General health effects that are associated with arsenic exposure include cardiovascular and peripheral vascular disease, developmental anomalies, neurologic and neurobehavioural disorders, diabetes, hearing loss, portal fibrosis, hematologic disorders (anemia, leukopenia and eosinophilia) and multiple cancers: significantly higher standardized mortality rates and cumulative mortality rates for cancers of the skin, lung, liver, urinary bladder, kidney, and colon in many areas of arsenic pollution. Although several epidemiological studies have documented the sources of exposure and the global impact of arsenic contamination, the mechanisms by which arsenic induces health effects, including cancer, are not well characterized. Further research is needed to provide a better understanding of the pathobiology of arsenic-induced diseases and to better define the toxicologic pathology of arsenic in various organ systems. In this review, we provide and discuss the underlying pathology and nature of arsenic-induced lesions. Such information is critical for understanding the magnitude of health effects associated with arsenic exposure throughout the world.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Arsenic / adverse effects*
  • Arsenic Poisoning*
  • Carcinogens, Environmental / adverse effects*
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Global Health
  • Humans
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / adverse effects*


  • Carcinogens, Environmental
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Arsenic