Metals and breast cancer

J Mammary Gland Biol Neoplasia. 2013 Mar;18(1):63-73. doi: 10.1007/s10911-013-9273-9. Epub 2013 Jan 22.


Metalloestrogens are metals that activate the estrogen receptor in the absence of estradiol. The metalloestrogens fall into two subclasses: metal/metalloid anions and bivalent cationic metals. The metal/metalloid anions include compounds such as arsenite, nitrite, selenite, and vanadate while the bivalent cations include metals such as cadmium, calcium, cobalt, copper, nickel, chromium, lead, mercury, and tin. The best studied metalloestrogen is cadmium. It is a heavy metal and a prevalent environmental contaminant with no known physiological function. This review addresses our current understanding of the mechanism by which cadmium and the bivalent cationic metals activate estrogen receptor-α. The review also summarizes the in vitro and in vivo evidence that cadmium functions as an estrogen and the potential role of cadmium in breast cancer.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Breast Neoplasms / chemically induced*
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Cadmium / toxicity
  • Carcinogens / toxicity*
  • Carcinogens, Environmental / toxicity
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects
  • Estrogen Receptor alpha / agonists
  • Estrogen Receptor alpha / chemistry
  • Estrogen Receptor alpha / metabolism
  • Estrogens / toxicity*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mammary Glands, Animal / drug effects
  • Mammary Glands, Animal / metabolism
  • Mammary Glands, Human / drug effects*
  • Mammary Glands, Human / metabolism
  • Metalloids / toxicity*
  • Metals / toxicity*
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects


  • Carcinogens
  • Carcinogens, Environmental
  • Estrogen Receptor alpha
  • Estrogens
  • Metalloids
  • Metals
  • Cadmium