Bad news for people who love oysters and cigarettes: Shellfish and tobacco contain a metal that may up your risk of developing endometrial cancer. According to a five-year observational study recently published in PLOS One, women who have high levels of the metal cadmium were at a higher risk of developing endometrial cancer.
Foods such as liver and shellfish contain cadmium, as does tobacco. Researchers hope the finding could prevent the fourth-most common cancer in women; more than 31,000 new cases of endometrial cancer are expected to be diagnosed in 2017.
“Cadmium is an estrogen-mimicking chemical, meaning it imitates estrogen and its effects on the body,” said lead author Dr. Jane McElroy, an associate professor at the University of Maryland, in a statement.
Because endometrial cancer has been linked to estrogen exposure, this means cadmium could contribute to an increased risk of endometrial cancer.
McElroy’s team looked at 631 women who had endometrial cancer in their history and 879 women as part of a control group. The women completed a survey and submitted urine and saliva samples, which were evaluated for cadmium content. Those with higher cadmium had an increased risk of endometrial cancer.
In fact, the rate of endometrial cancer incidence increased by 22 percent in women who had higher levels of cadmium in their systems.
Women can limit their cadmium-associated cancer risks by eating shellfish in moderation, and for women who smoke, cutting down on or stopping smoking would help as well. Doing either is especially important in women who have a family history of the disease.
“I would recommend being attentive to your diet, as certain foods such as shellfish, kidney, and liver can contain high levels of cadmium. You don’t necessarily need to cut these from your diet, but eat them in moderation,” McElroy said.
As for smoking, she said it has been shown to more than double a person’s cadmium exposure along with causing lung cancer and respiratory diseases.
Dr. Julian Schink, chief of gynecologic oncology at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, said the study highlights the importance of environmental agents — including pesticides and refinery pollutants — that have estrogenlike activity.
While women might not need to have cadmium levels checked regularly, they should recognize that chemicals in the environment can affect their hormones. If you notice signs of uterine or endometrial cancer such as post-menopausal bleeding, significant intermenstrual bleeding or markedly heavier-than-normal periods, talk to your doctor.
“Everyone is exposed to cadmium in the United States,” Schink added. “At this time, we do not have a reference value that would trigger medical action.”