Association between heavy metals and colon cancer: an ecological study based on geographical information systems in North-Eastern Iran

Behzad Kiani, Fatemeh Hashemi Amin, Nasser Bagheri, Robert Bergquist, Ali Akbar Mohammadi, Mahmood Yousefi, Hossein Faraji, Gholamreza H. Roshandel, Somayeh Beirami, Hadi Rahimzadeh, Benyamin Hoseini

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Colorectal cancer has increased in Middle Eastern countries and exposure to environmental pollutants such as heavy metals has been implicated. However, data linking them to this disease are generally lacking. This study aimed to explore the spatial pattern of age-standardized incidence rate (ASR) of colon cancer and its potential association with the exposure level of the amount of heavy metals existing in rice produced in north-eastern Iran.

Cancer data were drawn from the Iranian population-based cancer registry of Golestan Province, north-eastern Iran. Samples of 69 rice milling factories were analysed for the concentration levels of cadmium, nickel, cobalt, copper, selenium, lead and zinc. The inverse distance weighting (IDW) algorithm was used to interpolate the concentration of this kind of heavy metals on the surface of the study area. Exploratory regression analysis was conducted to build ordinary least squares (OLS) models including every possible combination of the candidate explanatory variables and chose the most useful ones to show the association between heavy metals and the ASR of colon cancer.

The highest concentrations of heavy metals were found in the central part of the province and particularly counties with higher amount of cobalt were shown to be associated with higher ASR of men with colon cancer. In contrast, selenium concentrations were higher in areas with lower ASR of colon cancer in men. A significant regression equation for men with colon cancer was found (F(4,137) = 38.304, P 
Increased amounts of heavy metals in consumed rice may impact colon cancer incidence, both positively and negatively. While there were indications of an association between high cobalt concentrations and an increased risk for colon cancer, we found that high selenium concentrations might instead decrease the risk. Further investigations are needed to clarify if there are ecological or other reasons for these discrepancies. Regular monitoring of the amount of heavy metals in consumed rice is recommended.
Original languageEnglish
Article number414
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalBMC Cancer
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021
Externally publishedYes


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