Facilitative mechanisms of lead as a carcinogen

Mutat Res. 2003 Dec 10;533(1-2):121-33. doi: 10.1016/j.mrfmmm.2003.07.010.


The carcinogenicity of lead compounds has received renewed attention because of continuing environmental and occupational sources of exposure in many countries. The epidemiological evidence for an association between lead exposures and human cancer risk has been strengthened by recent studies, and new data on mechanisms of action provide biological plausibility for assessing lead as a human carcinogen. Both epidemiological and mechanistic data are consistent with a facilitative role for lead in carcinogenesis, that is, lead by itself may not be both necessary and sufficient for the induction of cancer, but at a cellular and molecular level lead may permit or enhance carcinogenic events involved in DNA damage, DNA repair, and regulation of tumor suppressor and promoter genes. Some of these events may also be relevant to understanding mechanisms of lead-induced reproductive toxicity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carcinogens / pharmacology
  • Carcinogens / toxicity*
  • Cricetinae
  • DNA Damage
  • DNA Repair
  • Drug Interactions
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Humans
  • Lead / pharmacology
  • Lead / toxicity*
  • Mice
  • Occupational Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Rats


  • Carcinogens
  • Lead