Trace element deficiency or excess is implicated in the development or progression in some cancers. Here we report the elevated level of copper and low level of zinc in the plasma of esophageal cancer patients in Kashmir India–a high incidence area. The average level of copper was significantly higher (P < 0.0001) for patients than for controls, with a mean concentration of 169 microg/dl and 149 microg/dl for patients and controls, respectively. The control group consisted of 55 healthy individuals matched for age, sex, and place of residence of the patients. In contrast, the average level of zinc in patients was significantly lower than in controls (P < 0.0001), with a mean concentration of 86.8 microg/dl and 96.1 microg/dl for patients and controls, respectively. The levels of both copper and zinc showed significant differences based on gender and age in patients as compared to controls. Similarly, smokers depicted a significant increase in serum copper (N = 39, P = 0.002) and a decrease in serum zinc approaching level of significance in the patient group as compared to controls. The copper and zinc levels were significantly altered in patients (N = 40) when compared to controls as a function of snuff consumption. The differences in the levels of copper and zinc showed significant association with the consumption of local salted tea up to 1,500 ml per day, but the changes were insignificant beyond that. Patients with poorly differentiated tumors (N = 7) had a higher copper concentration than those with moderately or well-differentiated tumors (P < 0.0001). To validate the general notion that imbalance in copper and zinc levels may lead to higher prevalence of TP53 mutations, we compared the 3 variables, and no association was found between copper concentration and TP53 mutation status; but patients with TP53 mutant tumor had lower zinc levels than those with no mutation. In conclusion, our results point toward a role of the trace element imbalance in the esophageal tumorigenesis in high-risk Kashmiri population exposed to a range of nitroso compounds or their precursors. Further prospective cohort studies are warranted to determine whether change in the plasma zinc and copper homeostasis may represent an independent risk factor for this malignancy as well as a possible target for preventive intervention.

Dar NA, Mir MM, Salam I, Malik MA, Gulzar GM, Yatoo GN, Ahmad A, Shah A
Nutr Cancer 2008;60(5):585-91
PMID: 18791921