Cadmium carcinogenesis

Mutat Res. 2003 Dec 10;533(1-2):107-20. doi: 10.1016/j.mrfmmm.2003.07.011.


Cadmium is a heavy metal of considerable environmental and occupational concern. Cadmium compounds are classified as human carcinogens by several regulatory agencies. The most convincing data that cadmium is carcinogenic in humans comes from studies indicating occupational cadmium exposure is associated with lung cancer. Cadmium exposure has also been linked to human prostate and renal cancer, although this linkage is weaker than for lung cancer. Other target sites of cadmium carcinogenesis in humans, such as liver, pancreas and stomach, are considered equivocal. In animals, cadmium effectively induces cancers at multiple sites and by various routes. Cadmium inhalation in rats induces pulmonary adenocarcinomas, in accord with its role in human lung cancer. Cadmium can induce tumors and/or preneoplastic lesions within the rat prostate after ingestion or injection. At relatively high doses, cadmium induces benign testicular tumors in rats, but these appear to be due to early toxic lesions and loss of testicular function, rather than from a specific carcinogenic effect of cadmium. Like many other metals, cadmium salts will induce mesenchymal tumors at the site of subcutaneous (s.c.) or intramuscular (i.m.) injections, but the human relevance of these is dubious. Other targets of cadmium in rodents include the liver, adrenal, pancreas, pituitary, and hematopoietic system. With the exception of testicular tumors in rodents, the mechanisms of cadmium carcinogenesis are poorly defined. Cadmium can cause any number of molecular lesions that would be relevant to oncogenesis in various cellular model systems. Most studies indicate cadmium is poorly mutagenic and probably acts through indirect or epigenetic mechanisms, potentially including aberrant activation of oncogenes and suppression of apoptosis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cadmium / metabolism
  • Cadmium / pharmacology
  • Cadmium / toxicity*
  • Carcinogens / toxicity*
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Neoplasms / chemically induced*
  • Occupational Exposure
  • Rats


  • Carcinogens
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Cadmium