Global burden of cancer and coronary heart disease resulting from dietary exposure to arsenic, 2015

Environ Res. 2019 Apr;171:185-192. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2019.01.025. Epub 2019 Jan 11.


Arsenic is a ubiquitous, naturally occurring metalloid that poses a significant risk for human cancer and non-cancer diseases. It is now evident that arsenic contamination in food, especially rice and grains, presents a significant exposure to hundreds of millions of individuals worldwide. However, the disease risk from chronic exposure to the low amounts of arsenic found in food remains to be established. Thus, this research estimates the global burdens of disease expressed as Disability-Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) for lung, skin and bladder cancers, as well as coronary heart disease (CHD) attributable to inorganic arsenic in food. To determine foodborne inorganic arsenic exposures worldwide, we used the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates of food consumption in 17 country clusters, in conjunction with the reported measurements of total and inorganic arsenic in different foods. We estimated cancer potency factors for arsenic related bladder and lung cancers, and from US Environmental Protection Agency risk estimates for skin cancer to calculate the cancer incidence in males and females within each of the WHO member states. Summary relative risk estimates and population attributable fractions were developed to estimate the YLD, YLL, and DALYs for arsenic-induced CHD. The findings indicate that, globally, each year the combined DALYs for all cancers attributable to inorganic arsenic in food are approximately 1.4 million with variation in global distribution based on population and food consumption patterns. The global burden of CHD attributable to foodborne inorganic arsenic also varied with WHO region and may contribute as much as 49 million DALYs. However, in contrast to cancer burden, there is a threshold effect for arsenic-associated CHD with no increased risk of heart disease at the expected lower bound of arsenic consumption in food. These estimates indicate that foodborne arsenic exposure causes a significant yet avoidable global burden of human disease.

Keywords: Arsenic; Cancer; Coronary heart disease; Diet; Disability-Adjusted life year; Foodborne burden of disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Arsenic*
  • Coronary Disease / epidemiology*
  • Dietary Exposure / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Global Health
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Quality-Adjusted Life Years


  • Arsenic