Telling Toenails

Pancreatic cancer risk increases with higher levels of trace elements

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

(RxWiki News) You'd think that your levels of trace elements would be assessed with a blood sample. Or maybe a hair sample. No, the best way to measure your levels of trace elements is through your toenails. Recently, scientists have found some fascinating information from examining toenails.

New research finds that people who have high levels of the trace elements nickel and selenium might have lower risks of developing pancreatic cancer. Yet, high levels of arsenic, cadmium and lead elevate the likelihood of one of the most mysterious and serious forms of cancer.

"Ask your doctor about taking trace element supplements."

Researchers looked to measure levels of 12 trace elements by testing the toenails of 118 patients with  exocrine pancreatic cancer, the most common type of the disease. They also sampled toenails from 400 cancer-free patients.

Toenails are the best way to measure these levels because trace element intake and exposure are captured over long periods of time.

Analysis found that certain trace element levels in the cancer patients were significantly different from those of patients who didn't have the disease. Here's what the study found:

  • Individuals who had the highest levels of arsenic and cadmium were two to 3.5 times more likely to have cancer of the pancreas than people with the lowest levels.
  • Patients with the highest levels of lead were more than 6 times as likely to have the disease!
  • Conversely, people with the highest levels of selenium and nickel were 33-95 percent less likely to have pancreatic cancer compared with people who had the lowest levels.
  • Other known risk factors, including diabetes, excess weight and smoking did not alter these findings.

Tobacco contains trace metals that include cadmium, which is known to cause cancer and has been linked to higher risks of lung, prostate and kidney cancers. Smoking is believed to be a factor in roughly one-third of pancreatic cancers.

Selenium, on the other hand, has been associated with having a protective effect against some cancers. This element has been shown in previous research to block or counter the harmful effects of arsenic, cadmium and lead.

The causes of pancreatic cancer remain mystery. The study authors conclude that duplicating these findings in other studies, "would point to an important role of trace elements in pancreatic carcinogenesis."

This research was published online in Gut.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 19, 2011
Last Updated:
December 19, 2011