Background: Rates of renal cancer have increased steadily during the past two decades, and these increases are not explicable solely by advances in imaging modalities. Cadmium, a widespread environmental pollutant, is a carcinogen that accumulates in the kidney cortex and is a cause of end-stage renal disease. Several observations suggest that cadmium may be a cause of renal cancer.
Methods: We performed a systematic review of the literature on cadmium and renal cancer using MEDLINE for the years 1966-2003. We reviewed seven epidemiological and eleven clinical studies.
Results: Despite different methodologies, three large epidemiologic studies indicate that occupational exposure to cadmium is associated with increased risk renal cancer, with odds ratios varying from 1.2 to 5.0. Six of seven studies that compared the cadmium content of kidneys from patients with kidney cancer to that of patients without kidney cancer found lower concentrations of cadmium in renal cancer tissues.
Conclusions: Exposure to cadmium appears to be associated with renal cancer, although this conclusion is tempered by the inability of studies to assess cumulative cadmium exposure from all sources including smoking and diet. The paradoxical findings of lower cadmium content in kidney tissues from patients with renal cancer may be caused by dilution of cadmium in rapidly dividing cells. This and other methodological problems limit the interpretation of studies of cadmium in clinical samples. Whether cadmium is a cause of renal cancer may be answered more definitively by future studies that employ biomarkers of cadmium exposure, such as cadmium levels in blood and urine.