A joint Taiwan-US study has found associations between 12 metals and gallbladder cancer, among which cadmium, chromium, copper, molybdenum and vanadium could increase the risks of contracting the disease by 1.8 to 7.28 times.
National Yang-Ming University (NYMU) and the US National Institutes of Health tested associations between 18 metals in the human body with gallstones and gallbladder cancer, with the results published in the medical journal Hepatology in July last year.
The Taiwanese team, led by NYMU Institute of Clinical Medicine associate professor Lee Mei-hsuan (李美璇), studied serum samples provided by the US counterpart and identified 12 metals to be significantly associated with the disease, Lee said.
Photo courtesy of National Yang-Ming University
They are arsenic, cadmium, chromium, vanadium, sulfur, copper, iron, magnesium, molybdenum, selenium, boron and lithium, she said.
Serum samples came from 259 gallbladder cancer patients, mostly of Asian ethnicity, and the tests for metals were conducted through inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry, she said.
There is little research in Taiwan on gallbladder cancer as it is an uncommon disease, and the exploratory study reveals initial findings on the associations of metal levels in the body with gallbladder cancer and gallstones, she said.
However, the actual cause and effect require further clarification, as the study has not confirmed whether heavier metal concentrations lead to the disease, or the other way around, she added.
Caution is vital to avoid contracting the disease as metals that are harmful to the human body exist in everyday settings, such as in food, cosmetics and oil, she said.
Gallbladder cancer is difficult to diagnose, because it does not exhibit obvious symptoms, she said, with chemotherapy and surgery being the predominant treatment.
People diagnosed with gallbladder cancer usually have less than six months to live, she added.
Common symptoms of gallbladder cancer include pain in the right and upper abdomen, and backache, both of which usually worsen after having a meal, Linkou Chang Gung Memorial Hospital deputy superintendent Chien Rong-nan (簡榮南) said.
Weight loss is another sign, which occurs when the tumor grows to a certain size, Chien said, adding that people should stay alert and seek medical assistance immediately should any discomfort increase.
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