Evidence that arsenite acts as a cocarcinogen in skin cancer

Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2004 Aug 1;198(3):394-404. doi: 10.1016/j.taap.2003.10.016.


Inorganic arsenic (arsenite and arsenate) in drinking water has been associated with skin cancers in several countries such as Taiwan, Chile, Argentina, Bangladesh, and Mexico. This association has not been established in the United States. In addition, inorganic arsenic alone in drinking water does not cause skin cancers in animals. We recently showed that concentrations as low as 1.25 mg/l sodium arsenite were able to enhance the tumorigenicity of solar UV irradiation in mice. The tumors were almost all squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs). These data suggest that arsenic in drinking water may need a carcinogenic partner, such as sunlight, in the induction of skin cancers. Arsenite may enhance tumorigenicity via effects on DNA repair and DNA damage-induced cell cycle effects, leading to genomic instability. Others have found that dimethlyarsinic acid (DMA), a metabolite of arsenite, can induce bladder cancers at high concentrations in drinking water. In those experiments, skin cancers were not produced. Taken together, these data suggest that arsenite (or possibly an earlier metabolite), and not DMA, is responsible for the skin cancers, but a second genotoxic agent may be a requirement. The differences between the US and the other arsenic-exposed populations with regard to skin cancers might be explained by the lower levels of arsenic in the US, less sun exposure, better nutrition, or perhaps genetic susceptibility differences.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arsenic Poisoning*
  • Cocarcinogenesis*
  • DNA Repair
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Skin Neoplasms / chemically induced*
  • Skin Neoplasms / pathology
  • Ultraviolet Rays / adverse effects*
  • Water Pollution, Chemical / adverse effects*