, Volume 53, Issue 2, pp 471–479 | Cite as

Increased thyroid cancer incidence in a basaltic volcanic area is associated with non-anthropogenic pollution and biocontamination

  • Pasqualino MalandrinoEmail author
  • Marco Russo
  • Anna Ronchi
  • Claudio Minoia
  • Daniela Cataldo
  • Concetto Regalbuto
  • Carla Giordano
  • Marco Attard
  • Sebastiano Squatrito
  • Francesco Trimarchi
  • Riccardo Vigneri
Original Article


The increased thyroid cancer incidence in volcanic areas suggests an environmental effect of volcanic-originated carcinogens. To address this problem, we evaluated environmental pollution and biocontamination in a volcanic area of Sicily with increased thyroid cancer incidence. Thyroid cancer epidemiology was obtained from the Sicilian Regional Registry for Thyroid Cancer. Twenty-seven trace elements were measured by quadrupole mass spectrometry in the drinking water and lichens (to characterize environmental pollution) and in the urine of residents (to identify biocontamination) in the Mt. Etna volcanic area and in adjacent control areas. Thyroid cancer incidence was 18.5 and 9.6/105 inhabitants in the volcanic and the control areas, respectively. The increase was exclusively due to the papillary histotype. Compared with control areas, in the volcanic area many trace elements were increased in both drinking water and lichens, indicating both water and atmospheric pollution. Differences were greater for water. Additionally, in the urine of the residents of the volcanic area, the average levels of many trace elements were significantly increased, with values higher two-fold or more than in residents of the control area: cadmium (×2.1), mercury (×2.6), manganese (×3.0), palladium (×9.0), thallium (×2.0), uranium (×2.0), vanadium (×8.0), and tungsten (×2.4). Urine concentrations were significantly correlated with values in water but not in lichens. Our findings reveal a complex non-anthropogenic biocontamination with many trace elements in residents of an active volcanic area where thyroid cancer incidence is increased. The possible carcinogenic effect of these chemicals on the thyroid and other tissues cannot be excluded and should be investigated.


Thyroid cancer Volcanic area Trace elements Epidemiology Heavy metals 



This work was supported by grants from the Associazione Italiana per la Ricerca sul Cancro (AIRC, Milan, Italy) to R.V. P.M. was supported by a fellowship from the “Giuseppe Alazio” Foundation, Palermo, Italy. Drs. G. Padova and V. D’Urso (Catania), Dr. M.C. Moleti (Messina), Drs. C.A. Maniglia and P. Richiusa (Palermo) contributed to case selection and urine sample collection. Thyroid cancer incidence data were obtained from the Sicilian Regional Registry for Thyroid Cancer co-ordinated by Dr. G. Pellegriti.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Pasqualino Malandrino
    • 1
    Email author
  • Marco Russo
    • 1
  • Anna Ronchi
    • 2
  • Claudio Minoia
    • 2
  • Daniela Cataldo
    • 1
  • Concetto Regalbuto
    • 1
  • Carla Giordano
    • 3
  • Marco Attard
    • 4
  • Sebastiano Squatrito
    • 1
  • Francesco Trimarchi
    • 5
  • Riccardo Vigneri
    • 1
    • 6
    • 7
  1. 1.Endocrinology, Department of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, Garibaldi-Nesima Medical CenterUniversity of CataniaCataniaItaly
  2. 2.Laboratory of Experimental and Clinical Toxicology, Toxicology Unit, Pavia Poison Control Center and National Toxicology Information CenterIRCCS Maugeri FoundationPaviaItaly
  3. 3.Endocrinology, Diabetology and Metabolism, Department of Internal and Specialist BiomedicineUniversity of PalermoPalermoItaly
  4. 4.Unit of EndocrinologyOspedali Riuniti Villa Sofia, Cervello HospitalPalermoItaly
  5. 5.Endocrinology, Department of Clinical and Experimental MedicineUniversity of MessinaMessinaItaly
  6. 6.HumanitasCatania Oncoloy CenterCataniaItaly
  7. 7.Institute of Biostructures and Bioimaging, CNR (National Research Council)CataniaItaly

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