Study: Mercury Exposure Tied to Skin Cancer Risk

Individuals with the highest mercury levels in their blood were 79% more likely to report having had a non-melanoma skin cancer than those with the lowest levels.

A study based on national surveys found that Americans who consume a high amount of seafood that contains mercury may be at an increased risk for skin cancer, according to a study the British Journal of Dermatology.

Data from 29,000 adults showed individuals with the highest mercury levels in their blood were 79% more likely to report having had a non-melanoma skin cancer than those with the lowest levels.

Although the current study doesn’t prove that mercury does cause skin cancer, the investigators hope the findings will stimulate more research, study coauthor Eunyoung Cho told Reuters Health.

Mercury levels can vary in different types of seafood, which assists regulators in advising against eating a large amount of swordfish but not limit salmon, as an example.

Furthermore, methylmercury is a form of the pollutant that was commonly released from factories into waterways. This occurred before environmental regulations in many parts of the world became stricter on the practice due to health concerns.

The study authors examined data from annual health surveys from nationally representative samples of adults between 2003 and 2016, which included blood tests. The study population had an average age of 49 years and 468 people reported ever having a non-melanoma skin cancer.

The study was limited by a lack of data from medical records to verify skin cancer diagnoses. Moreover, there was a lack of data on many other skin risks, including hair color and skin pigmentation, number of moles, and any history of indoor tanning or severe sunburns.

Although people should be aware of the skin cancer risk associated with mercury from fish, it is not clarified as an exact cause of these malignancies, according to Aaron Farberg, MD, of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.

“Although this study reveals an association between excess mercury exposure and non-melanoma skin cancer, causation is not well understood,” Farberg said in a prepared statement to Reuters.

REFERENCE

Rapaport, Lisa. Mercury exposure tied to skin cancer risk. Reuters Health. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-mercury-skin-cancer/mercury-exposure-tied-to-skin-cancer-risk-idUSKBN20Q34T. Published March 3, 2020. Accessed March 11, 2020.