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Association Between Mercury Exposure and Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer

By: Sarah Campen, PharmD
Posted: Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Exposure to mercury may be linked to a higher prevalence of non-melanoma skin cancer, according to a study published in the British Journal of Dermatology. Eunyoung Cho, ScD, of the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, and colleagues found that elevated blood total mercury and methylmercury levels were significantly associated with non-melanoma skin cancer in a representative sample of the U.S. population.

“Most populations in the United States are exposed to [methylmercury] through consuming [methylmercury]-contaminated fish and shellfish,” explained the researchers.

The study evaluated data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2003 to 2016. The researchers included 29,413 patients with a self-reported diagnosis of non-melanoma skin cancer; they assessed their levels of blood total mercury, inorganic mercury, and methylmercury.

Compared with patients with a blood total mercury in the lowest quartile (≤ .47 μg L-1), those with a blood total mercury in the highest quartile (> 1.74 μg L-1) had nearly double the odds of non-melanoma skin cancer (odds ratio = 1.79). Similarly, those in the highest quartile of methylmercury (> 1.44 μg L-1) had 1.7 times greater odds of non-melanoma skin cancer (odds ratio = 1.74) than those in the lowest quartile (≤ .21 μg L-1).

“Our findings add to the limited data from epidemiological studies supporting the role of mercury exposure in skin cancer,” concluded Dr. Cho and colleagues.

Disclosure: The study authors reported no conflicts of interest.

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