Epidemiologic studies have shown the health risks of exposure to cigarette smoke and air pollution, with heavy metal composition implicated as contributing to both. Environmental exposure to cigarette smoke has been epidemiologically associated with pancreatic cancer, but the pathophysiologic basis for this is not yet clear. In the current work, we have used inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry to quantify the metal composition of pancreatic juice collected in response to secretin stimulation in successive patients evaluated for abdominal pain (35 with pancreatic cancer, 30 with chronic pancreatitis, and 35 with normal pancreas). Indeed, metal composition of pancreatic juice was distinctive in patients with pancreatic cancer relative to those without such a cancer. The metal concentrations that were found to have the strongest association with pancreatic cancer were chromium, selenium, and molybdenum, with 1 SD increases in the concentrations of each associated with substantial increases in the odds of having pancreatic cancer relative to those in patients with normal pancreas (210%, 160%, and 76%, respectively). Of note, elevations in concentrations of chromium and selenium did not correlate in individuals, whereas those having a 1 SD increase in the sum of the concentrations of these two metals in their pancreatic juice had a 480% increase in the odds of having pancreatic cancer. Elevations of nickel and zinc correlated with elevated chromium in individuals, with each of these metals known to be present in cigarette smoke, whereas other recognized metal components of cigarette smoke were not elevated. An understanding of why these metals are elevated in pancreatic juice and what effects they might have on pancreatic cells may have important implications for the diagnosis, treatment, and even prevention of pancreatic cancer.
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