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Does Mercury Exposure Increase NMSC Risk?

Mercury exposure is associated with an increased risk of non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC), according to the findings of a recent study published in the British Journal of Dermatology.

“Some studies have reported increased incidence or mortality of lung and brain cancers associated with occupations involving potential mercury exposure,” the researcher said. Additionally, many people in the United States are exposed to mercury through consuming MeHg-contaminated fish and shellfish. There are few epidemiological studies on the relationship between mercury exposure and skin cancer, they added.
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Using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2003 to 2016, they investigated the association between total mercury (tHg), inorganic (iHg), and methylmercury (MeHg) levels in blood and nonmelanoma skin cancer among 29,413 participants (mean age 49 years; 52% female). The researchers conducted logistic regression analysis to estimate odd ratios (OR) for the risk of NMSC associated with quartiles of blood mercury, as well as adjusted for sociodemographic factors.

Compared with individuals with tHg ≤ 0.47 μg L−1, those with a tHg > 1.74 μg L−1 had nearly double the odds of NMSC (OR 1.79; 95% CI 1.19-2.71), the researchers said. They also found those in the highest quartile of MeHg (> 1.44 μg L−1) had 1.7 times higher odds of NMSC compared with those in the lowest quartile (≤ 0.1 μg L−1) (OR 1.74; 95% CI, 1.13-2.70).

However, they did not find significantly positive associations between iHg levels and NMSC.

“We found that higher blood tHg and MeHg levels were associated with a higher prevalence of NMSC,” the researchers concluded. “Our findings add to the limited data from epidemiological studies supporting the role of Hg exposure in skin cancer.”


Rhee J, Vance TM, Lim R, Christiani DC, Qureshi AA, Cho E. Association of blood mercury levels with nonmelanoma skin cancer in the U.S.A. using National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data (2003–2016) [published online February 5, 2020]. Br J Dermatol. doi:10.1111/bjd.18797

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