Little is known about the etiology of pancreatic cancer, which is an important cause of cancer mortality in developed countries. We hypothesize that exposure to cadmium is a cause of pancreatic cancer. Cadmium is a nonessential metal that is known to accumulate in the human pancreas.
The major risk factors for pancreatic cancer (increasing age, cigarette smoking, residence in Louisiana, and occupations involving exposure to metalworking and pesticides) are all associated with increased exposure to cadmium. Our meta-analysis of cohorts with high exposure to cadmium is also consistent with an increased risk of pancreatic cancer (standardized mortality ratio = 166; 95% confidence interval, 98–280; P = 0.059).
Cadmium can cause the transdifferentiation of pancreatic cells, increases in the synthesis of pancreatic DNA, and increases in oncogene activation. Thus, cadmium is a plausible pancreatic carcinogen. The cadmium hypothesis provides a coherent explanation for much of the descriptive epidemiology of pancreatic cancer and suggests new avenues for analytical research.