Mercury and cancer: Where are we now after two decades of research?

Anatoly V. Skalny, Michael Aschner, Marina I. Sekacheva, Abel Santamaria, Fernando Barbosa, Beatriz Ferrer, Jan Aaseth, Monica M.B. Paoliello, Joao B.T. Rocha, Alexey A. Tinkov

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


The present study aims to review epidemiological and experimental toxicology studies published over the last two decades linking mercury (Hg) exposure and carcinogenesis, with a special emphasis on the potential underlying mechanisms. While some epidemiological studies have observed a strong association between environmental/occupational Hg exposure levels, measured in blood, toenail, and hair, and cancer risk and mortality, others failed to reveal any association. In experimental models, high-dose Hg exposure has been linked with cytotoxicity, whereas low-dose exposure was posited to induce proliferative responses in both normal and cancerous cells by interference with estrogen receptor, ERK1/2, JNK, NADPH-oxidase and, potentially, Nrf2 signaling. Combined with reduced apoptosis and pro-survival signaling upon low-dose Hg exposure, accumulation of DNA lesions in cells may predispose to an increased risk of malignant transformation. In addition, the pro-oxidant activity of Hg species may induce oxidative DNA modifications and inhibits DNA repair mechanisms. Furthermore, epigenetic effects of Hg exposure seem to contribute to the carcinogenic activity, although the particular mechanisms have yet to be characterized. Therefore, even after 20 years of research, one cannot consider Hg as a non-carcinogenic agent, whereas specific mechanisms of Hg-induced toxicity may promote carcinogenic risk.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number113001
JournalFood and Chemical Toxicology
StatePublished - Jun 2022


  • Carcinogenesis
  • Epidemiology
  • Exposure
  • Genotoxicity
  • Mercury
  • Proliferation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Toxicology


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