Cancer Causes & Control

, Volume 18, Issue 1, pp 7–27 | Cite as

Trace elements and cancer risk: a review of the epidemiologic evidence

  • Stephanie A. Navarro Silvera
  • Thomas E. Rohan


Worldwide, there are more than 10 million new cancer cases each year, and cancer is the cause of approximately 12% of all deaths. Given this, a large number of epidemiologic studies have been undertaken to identify potential risk factors for cancer, amongst which the association with trace elements has received considerable attention. Trace elements, such as selenium, zinc, arsenic, cadmium, and nickel, are found naturally in the environment, and human exposure derives from a variety of sources, including air, drinking water, and food. Trace elements are of particular interest given that the levels of exposure to them are potentially modifiable. In this review, we focus largely on the association between each of the trace elements noted above and risk of cancers of the lung, breast, colorectum, prostate, urinary bladder, and stomach. Overall, the evidence currently available appears to support an inverse association between selenium exposure and prostate cancer risk, and possibly also a reduction in risk with respect to lung cancer, although additional prospective studies are needed. There is also limited evidence for an inverse association between zinc and breast cancer, and again, prospective studies are needed to confirm this. Most studies have reported no association between selenium and risk of breast, colorectal, and stomach cancer, and between zinc and prostate cancer risk. There is compelling evidence in support of positive associations between arsenic and risk of both lung and bladder cancers, and between cadmium and lung cancer risk.


Trace elements Selenium Zinc Arsenic Cadmium Nickel Neoplasms 



Alpha-Tocopherol Beta-Carotene Cancer Prevention Cohort




atomic absorption spectrophotometry


atomic emission spectrophotometry


attributable risk




excessive mortality rate


flame atomic absorption


gastric cardia adenocarcinoma


inductively coupled plasma mass spectometry


International Agency for Research on Cancer


neutron activation analysis




non-cardia gastric adenocarcinoma


part per billion




standardized incidence ratio


standardized mortality ratio


The Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial


United States Department of Health and Human Services Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry




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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stephanie A. Navarro Silvera
    • 1
  • Thomas E. Rohan
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Epidemiology and Population HealthAlbert Einstein College of MedicineNew YorkUSA

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