For the study, investigators examined nearly 520 individuals, with 118 being patients with exocrine pancreatic cancer, the most common form of the disease. The remaining hospital patients studied were without cancer.
Nails and toenails are believed by many researchers to be more reliable indicators of trace element levels when compared to dietary methods of assessment because they are capable of storing exposure and intake from other sources over long term periods. As such, the investigators in the study examined toenails from participants for 12 trace element levels.
The results of the examinations found levels of certain trace elements were significantly higher or lower amongst cancer patients when compared to those in the control group. The investigators noticed that depending on the levels of the trace elements, patients had a higher or lower risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
The investigators found that the risk of pancreatic cancer increased to between double and 3.5 times in patients with the highest levels of arsenic and cadmium compared to those who had the lowest levels. Patients with the highest levels of lead were over six times more likely to have the disease.
Additionally, patients who had the greatest levels of nickel and selenium in their toenails were between 33% and 95% less likely to develop the disease when compared to those with the lowest levels. The findings were unaffected despite researchers accounting for other risk factors like smoking, diabetes, and being overweight.
Nearly a third of all pancreatic cancer cases are believed to be attributed to smoking. Tobacco contains cadmium and other trace metals. Cadmium is a known carcinogen and studies have liked it to increased risks for kidney, lung, and prostate cancers. On the other hand, elevated levels of selenium have been found to have a protective benefit against certain cancers. Earlier research even suggests that selenium may counter the harmful effects of arsenic, cadmium and lead.
The study authors emphasize that the causes of pancreatic cancer are still mostly unknown, even despite decades of research. However, they claim their results indicate the important role trace elements play in the onset and prevention of pancreatic cancer. New findings such as these can help unlock the mysteries behind the disease.