Heavy Metals as a Cause of Lung Cancer

The term “heavy metals” is used to refer to toxic, metallic, high density chemical elements that are poisonous even at low concentrations. Some of these naturally occurring heavy metals include arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, lead, and mercury.

While the body may need some heavy metals in trace amounts, such as zinc, copper, and selenium, some toxic metals can accumulate in large quantities and cause health problems. They may enter the body through contaminated drinking water, food, inhalation, or through contact with the skin or eyes. Once in the body, the heavy metals are known to bioaccumulate. Over time the metals increase in concentration as they remain in the body. They build up because they are absorbed by the body quicker than they can be metabolized and discharged.

Possible Links Between Heavy Metals and Lung Cancer

Toxic metals have been known to lead to different types of cancer or lung cancer, or accumulate and impede normal function of one’s vital organs (i.e. heart, brain, liver, kidneys, etc.). These diseases are the result of metals attaching to one’s DNA and interfering with the replication process, and ultimately causing mutations that may lead to cancer and other conditions.

The presence of heavy metals may also play a primary role in the displacement of essential minerals and nutrients the body needs for proper function. Since these metals cannot meet the same requirements as the necessary nutrients, they become disruptive to normal enzyme function and result in harmful health conditions.

The following are just some of the heavy metals that may lead to lung cancer and/or other harmful effects:


This metal may cause skin conditions such as dermatitis, mild pigmentation and warts, or may lead to more severe health problems such as lung distress, lung cancer, or death. Exposure to this harmful metal may occur in the workplace environment through ingestion, inhalation, and contact with the skin or eyes.


This metal may cause health conditions such as lung infection, dysfunction of vital organs, rickets, lung cancer, and other complications such as interference of vitamin D and calcium metabolism. One can come in contact with beryllium through coal burning, manufacturing environments, and through some household products.


This toxic metal is known to cause renal dysfunction and bone defects. Research shows a relationship between lung cancer and other obstructive lung conditions when cadmium is present in high doses. Once this metal is absorbed, it is biopersistent (remains in the body for several years).


Significant exposure to a form of chromium called, hexavalent chromium, has been shown to cause an increased risk of lung cancer specifically in workers that breathe the metal in large concentrations over long periods of time in their workplace environment (i.e. those that produce chromate or pigments containing chromate). Other harmful effects may include damage to the throat, nose, eyes, or skin. Although hexavalent chromium is a primary cause of cancer, other carcinogens may include lead chromate, zinc chromate, strontium chromate, calcium chromate, and chromium trioxide.

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