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Exposure to Mold Toxin Linked to Gallbladder Cancer Risk

Posted on May 31, 2017

A micrograph of an Aspergillus spore, a type of fungus that produces aflatoxin.

A study by the National Cancer Institute reports an association between a marker of exposure to aflatoxin, a poisonous chemical produced by a type of mold, and gallbladder cancer in a population of men and women in Shanghai, China.

Aflatoxin is an established risk factor for hepatocellular carcinoma, a type of liver cancer. Although rare in the U.S., aflatoxin exposure is a concern in some areas of the world, including parts of China. Jill Koshiol, Ph.D., and colleagues investigated whether the exposure may also be associated with cancer of the gallbladder, a highly fatal disease. The investigators analyzed a marker of aflatoxin exposure in 209 gallbladder cancer patients and 250 controls with gallstones but no sign of cancer. The marker, the aflatoxin B1 (AFB1)-lysine molecule, was detected in plasma samples from 32 percent of cases and 15 percent of controls. Among individuals with detectable AFB1-lysine, individuals with levels in the highest 25 percent of the population were over seven times more likely to have gallbladder cancer, compared to those in the lowest 25 percent.

These findings add to the body of evidence linking aflatoxin exposure, as measured by AFB1-lysine in plasma, to risk of gallbladder cancer. The authors estimate that if established as a cause of this malignancy, aflatoxin exposure may account for up to 22 percent of gallbladder cancer cases in the study population. They note that, if verified in subsequent studies, the results may support public health programs aimed at reducing aflatoxin exposure to decrease the incidence of gallbladder cancer.

Reference: Koshiol et al. Association of Aflatoxin and Gallbladder Cancer. Gastroenterology. April 17, 2017. DOI:10.1053/j.gastro.2017.04.005