FIRST PERSON | One of the first things you ask after receiving a breast cancer diagnosis is "why me?" I frequently look back on my diet, lifestyle and family history to see if there was something I could have done that would have prevented my breast cancer. A new Swedish study suggests that cadmium, a heavy metal found in the foods we eat, may contribute to breast cancer. Unfortunately, cadmium is found in the same foods that we are supposed to eat to stay healthy. Whole grains and root crops have the highest amount of dietary cadmium.
Researchers in Sweden followed 55,987 post-menopausal women over the course of 12.2 years. The study, published in the March 15 edition of Cancer Research, asked women to fill out questionnaires about their diet. Amounts of dietary cadmium were calculated based on the woman's food intake.
A total of 2,112 cases of breast cancer were reported among the women. 1,626 of the women with cancer had tumors that were estrogen-positive and 290 women had estrogen-negative cancers. The study showed that women who consumed the highest amount of dietary cadmium had a 21 percent higher rate of invasive breast cancer than the women who consumed little dietary cadmium.
Cadmium and diet
Cadmium is a toxic heavy metal. Normally, it should not be found in food. Contamination of ground water and soil from agricultural fertilizers are a main source of cadmium. Root crops such as carrots, potatoes, turnips and beets pick up cadmium from soil and water. Whole grains are another source of dietary cadmium. These are the foods we are supposed to eat in order to prevent cancer. The Swedish study takes into account the health benefits of these foods and still finds a statistically significant increase in cancers, although women who ate more whole grains and vegetables had a lower risk of cancers than those who did not.
Cadmium and my cancer
Was switching to an almost-vegetarian diet one of the reasons I developed breast cancer? Although I am not menopausal, I wonder if dietary cadmium played a part in my cancer diagnosis. Most likely, I will never get a definite answer to this question. I have other risk factors, but I will always wonder if dietary cadmium caused my breast cancer.
The Swedish study states that more research into the link between dietary cadmium and breast cancer is warranted. It would be interesting to see if they can follow vegetarian and vegan women to see if they have an increased rate of breast cancer. I find the link disturbing. Working with a dietician, I have modified my diet to include more whole grains and vegetables. The last thing I want is a repeat of cancer in my remaining breast.
Lynda Altman is currently receiving treatment for a type of breast cancer called invasive ductal carcinoma. She writes a series for Yahoo! Shine called "My Battle with Breast Cancer."