Dr Louise Parker is asking people to send in their toenail clippings, hoping it will help her and her research team figure out why there are such high rates of certain types of cancer in the Atlantic provinces.
Dr Parker is an epidemiologist at Dalhousie University who came to Nova Scotia from Newcastle. Through funding from the Canadian Cancer Society, she is examining how different levels of arsenic in drinking water contribute to cancer risk.
“We know that arsenic is a cause of several cancers. We’re looking at the urinary tract cancers – kidney and bladder – which are higher in Atlantic Canada than elsewhere in the country. We want to be able to estimate how much of this high rate is due to arsenic,” explains Dr Parker.
Arsenic occurs naturally in some rock types and can leach into drinking water through drilled or dug wells. It’s both tasteless and odourless. Arsenic at high levels is known to cause cancer – specifically kidney, bladder, lung and skin cancers – but it is not clear how much arsenic people consume and how this affects their risk of cancer.
Dr Parker is measuring arsenic in well water and the accumulation of arsenic in bodies. Participants are asked to send in their toenail clippings, which are tested for arsenic using basic chemical detection methods. Dr Parker’s group will then map data on bladder and kidney cancer rates in Nova Scotia to measurements of arsenic accumulation in participants’ bodies and in their drinking water.
Dr Parker hopes that this project will help us understand the link between arsenic and urinary cancers and lead to better prevention strategies.
Dr Parker is the Endowed Chair in Population Cancer Research for the Society’s Nova Scotia Division.