Cadmium is a highly toxic heavy metal, which has a destroying impact on organs. Exposure to
cadmium causes severe health problems to human beings due to its ubiquitous environmental presence and
features of the pathologies associated with prolonged exposure. Cadmium is a well-established carcinogen,
although the underlying mechanisms have not been fully understood yet. Recently, there has been considerable
interest in the impact of this environmental pollutant on the epigenome. Because of the role of epigenetic alterations
in regulating gene expression, there is a potential for the integration of cadmium-induced epigenetic alterations as
critical elements in the cancer risk assessment process. Here, after a brief review of the major diseases related to cadmium
exposure, we focus our interest on the carcinogenic potential of this heavy metal. Among the several proposed
pathogenetic mechanisms, particular attention is given to epigenetic alterations, including changes in DNA methylation,
histone modifications and non-coding RNA expression. We review evidence for a link between cadmium-induced epigenetic
changes and cell transformation, with special emphasis on melanoma. DNA methylation, with reduced expression of
key genes that regulate cell proliferation and apoptosis, has emerged as a possible cadmium-induced epigenetic mechanism
in melanoma. A wider comprehension of mechanisms related to this common environmental contaminant would allow
a better cancer risk evaluation.
Keywords: Cadmium, Cancer, DNA methylation, Epigenetics, Histone modifications, Melanoma, Non-coding RNAs.
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