The role of heavy metals and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the oncogenesis of head and neck tumors and thyroid diseases: a pilot study

Biometals. 2018 Apr;31(2):285-295. doi: 10.1007/s10534-018-0091-9. Epub 2018 Mar 8.


Previous literature has highlighted the mechanisms of molecular toxicity induced by substances such as arsenic, cadmium, chromium, nickel, lead, barium and PCBs. The research was carried out on 20 volunteers, all the patients gave their consent to the research: the aim of the study was to evaluate the presence of metals and PCBs in these different matrices (blood and hair), correlating the biochemical data to pathological conditions present, and also to the area in which patients resided. Various quantitative determinations were carried out on samples of blood and hair for 14 heavy metals and on blood samples for 12 PCBs. For the 11 patients the results indicated that blood levels for half of the 14 displayed heavy metals measured considerably higher compared to the reference values, whilst the levels measured in hair evidenced some positive values significantly higher than the maximum reference. Of the 12 PCBs assayed in blood some showed higher positive values compared to the maximum tabular reference (although there is no clear reference quantified in the WHO-2005 report). In the 9 healthy patients heavy metals in the blood were within the expected target range, with those showing positive results (≤ 3 out of 14 heavy metals for each patient) having values only slightly higher than the reference maximum. The levels of 14 heavy metals measured in hair were below thresholds, and levels for the 12 PCBs measured in blood showed negativity or positivity with values close to the minimum benchmarks. The analyses carried out on biological matrices have uncovered important and significant differences between healthy and unhealthy subjects, both qualitative and quantitative differences with respect to heavy metals and PCBs. All patients with head and neck cancer enlisted for the study had heavy metal and PCB blood levels at least twice the maximum reference level. The levels of heavy metals in hair were at least double the maximum reference. In contrast, all healthy volunteers enrolled showed no significant levels for either metals or PCBs.

Keywords: Head and neck tumors; Heavy metals; Oncogenesis; PCB.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Arsenic / blood
  • Arsenic / chemistry
  • Cadmium / blood
  • Cadmium / chemistry
  • Carcinogenesis / chemically induced
  • Child
  • Chromium / blood
  • Chromium / chemistry
  • Female
  • Hair / chemistry
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / blood*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / pathology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Metals, Heavy / blood
  • Metals, Heavy / chemistry
  • Metals, Heavy / toxicity*
  • Middle Aged
  • Nickel / blood
  • Nickel / chemistry
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / blood*
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / chemistry
  • Thyroid Diseases / blood*
  • Thyroid Diseases / pathology
  • Young Adult


  • Metals, Heavy
  • Cadmium
  • Chromium
  • Nickel
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls
  • Arsenic