Cancer in the “Land of Fires”

A new study, coordinated by a team from Siena University (Italy) has published findings on heavy metals concentrations in cancer patients’ blood, shedding light on the environmental implications of life in Italy’s “Land of Fire” in the Campania region.

Heavy metals in cancer patients’ blood under scrutiny

A new study, coordinated by a team from Siena University (Italy) has published findings on heavy metals concentrations in cancer patients’ blood, shedding light on the environmental implications of life in Italy’s “Land of Fire” in the Campania region. The results were published in the journal "Cellular Physiology".

Environmental contamination by agents potentially harmful to human health in the "Terra dei fuochi" (in English: Land of Fires) is at the center of a study conducted by the research team coordinated by Professor Antonio Giordano. The research is based on a screening that checked blood levels of carcinogenic heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants (POPs) on a cohort of 95 cancer patients living in Campania, Italy.

"The phenomenon sadly known as the Land of Fires, in Campania, is a real emergency" - explains Professor Giordano. "Vast areas of the Naples and Caserta provinces, in fact, have been afflicted for decades by a brisk illegal activity of uncontrolled spills (and burning) of industrial and urban waste of various kinds; and in the same areas, there has been an increase in the incidence of various chronic and degenerative diseases, including cancer. The research project - he adds - aimed to measure the concentration of four heavy metals [arsenic (As), cadmium (Cd), mercury (Hg), and lead (Pb)] and four classes of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in the blood of cancer patients living in different areas of Campania".

"We have observed high levels of heavy metals blood concentration (in cases) in some municipalities, such as Pianura, Giugliano, Qualiano and Castel Volturno" stresses Dr. Iris Maria Forte, the study's main author. "In particular - explains the physician - a statically significant result has been observed for Giugliano, where cancer patients have high blood levels of cadmium and mercury".

"Despite some limitations in this exploratory study - explains Professor Enrico Bucci of the Sbarro Institute (The Sbarro Institute for Cancer Research and Molecular Medicine, Sbarro Health Research Organization, Philadelphia) - such as the small sample size for some municipalities -, our preliminary observations confirm some previous studies: the level of toxic metals in the blood of cancer patients in some municipalities of the "Land of Fires" is completely out of safe levels. The causal link between tumor development and exposure to these metals has been known for some time. Since that causal link is obvious, the constant exceeding of legal limits even in the small number of individuals examined is an alarming fact in itself, which requires the immediate extension of the analysis to a larger population, so as to have an epidemiologically accurate representation".

"These studies - concludes Professor Giordano - are crucial to promoting interventions aimed at improving health conditions in these areas. It is necessary to underline that the right to health is linked to the obligatory nature of interventions aimed at protecting the environment and its inhabitants".

Source: 
Forte IM, Indovina P, Costa A, Iannuzzi CA, Costanzo L, Marfella A, Montagnaro S, Botti G, Bucci E, Giordano A. Blood screening for heavy metals and organic pollutants in cancer patients exposed to toxic waste in southern Italy: A pilot study. J Cell Physiol. 2019 Dec 15. doi: 10.1002/jcp.29399.

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