Background: Arsenic is a unique human carcinogen in that it causes lung cancer by exposure through ingestion (in drinking water) as well as through inhalation. Less is known about nonmalignant pulmonary disease after exposure to arsenic in drinking water.
Methods: We recruited 108 subjects with arsenic-caused skin lesions and 150 subjects without lesions from a population survey of over 7000 people in an arsenic-exposed region in West Bengal, India. Thirty-eight study participants who reported at least 2 years of chronic cough underwent high-resolution computed tomography (CT); these scans were read by investigators in India and the United States without knowledge of the presence or absence of skin lesions.
Results: The mean (± standard deviation) bronchiectasis severity score was 3.4 (± 3.6) in the 27 participants with skin lesions and 0.9 (± 1.6) in the 11 participants without these lesions. In subjects who reported chronic cough, CT evidence of bronchiectasis was found in 18 (67%) participants with skin lesions and 3 (27%) subjects without skin lesions. Overall, subjects with arsenic-caused skin lesions had a 10-fold increased prevalence of bronchiectasis compared with subjects who did not have skin lesions (adjusted odds ratio = 10; 95% confidence interval = 2.7–37).
Conclusions: These results suggest that, in addition to being a cause of lung cancer, ingestion of high concentrations of arsenic in drinking water may be a cause of bronchiectasis.