A Possible Poisonous Connection

Kidney cancer and arsenic may be connected

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) In the film, Arsenic and Old Lace, Cary Grant learns his aunt is a homicidal maniac. Scientists have discovered that arsenic may have a poisonous link to another killer - kidney cancer.

A moderate amount of arsenic found in the urine may be related to increased risks of kidney cancer, particularly in people who have kidney disease and high blood pressure. The new study doesn't prove that arsenic causes or contributes to the kidney cancer.

Researchers say arsenic may lead to high blood pressure and kidney problems that can then result in cancer. Or, it may be that the kidney cancer causes increased levels of the element in the urine because the disease interferes with the kidneys' ability to filter waste.

"Arsenic and kidney cancer may be linked."

Researchers in Taiwan looked at the association between arsenic and the risk of kidney cancer in areas that have low levels of the chemical in the drinking water. Participants included 132 people with kidney cancer who were compared with 260 healthy individuals of the same age.

The study found those who had the highest levels of arsenic in their bodies did in fact have greater risks of kidney cancer. Those with high blood pressure or poor kidney function had six times greater risks than people who had none of the risk factors. Individuals with two of the three risks had four times the risk of kidney cancer. It was not clear what the exact nature of the relationship was.

Arsenic occurs naturally in soil, rock, air and water. Industrial activities release toxic chemical into the environment, and fertilizers, paints and dyes also contain arsenic.

It's known that exposure to high levels of arsenic can cause various cancers, including bladder, lung and liver cancers. High blood pressure and type 2 diabetes may also be linked to moderate amounts of arsenic in the body.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established the limit of arsenic in U.S. drinking water supplies to 10 micrograms per liter. Most water supplies in this country are well below that limit. However, an estimated 13 million people live in areas where arsenic exceeds those levels. And private, unregulated wells may also contain large amounts of the chemical.

Dr. Anthony Smith, chief of urology at the University of Mexico in Albuquerque, was not involved in the study, but found the findings interesting. He said, the results are inconclusive and more research is needed.

This research was published in the Journal of Urology.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 18, 2011
Last Updated:
July 20, 2011