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Will Your Sandwich Give You Bladder Cancer?

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You may be aware that processed meats such as hot dogs, bologna, salami, sausage and bacon can increase your risk for certain types of cancer, but a new study published online Aug. 2, 2010 in the peer-reviewed journal CANCER found it may not be the meat itself that increases the risk, but rather the compounds used or that form during processing that are the culprits.

Dr. Amanda J. Cross, a nutrition and cancer specialist with the National Cancer Institute and lead researcher for the study, followed 300,000 American men and women, ages 50 to 71 for eight years to evaluate the role of dietary exposures to cancer risk.

People who consumed the highest amounts of dietary nitrite from all sources, as well as those whose diets contained high amounts of nitrates plus additional nitrite from eating processed meats had a 28-29 percent increased risk of developing bladder cancer compared with those who consumed the lowest amount of the compounds.

Eating red and processed meats has been linked to an increased risk of developing several different types of cancer. Animal studies have identified a number of compounds in meat that might account for this association.

These compounds include: Heterocyclic amines — a cancer causing chemical formed while cooking meat, poultry and fish at high temperatures.

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons — a group of cancer causing chemicals found in cigarette smoke, charbroiled meats and burning fossil fuels.

N-nitroso compounds or NOCs . Nitrates and nitrites are added to processed meats to prevent botulism but are known precursors to NOCs. Sodium nitrite and nitrate salts added during meat processing react with stomach acid during digestion to form cancer-causing NOCs, the researchers say, which “induce tumors in many organs, including the bladder, in multiple animal species.”

In addition to processed meats, NOCs are found in varying quantities in many foods, including beer, fish and cheese products. They are also found in chewing tobacco and tobacco smoke. Rubber baby bottle nipples and pacifiers may also contain very small amounts of NOCs.

Earlier research has identified NOCs as known risk factors for colon cancer, childhood cancer, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. In 1978, The U.S. Food and Drug Administration established limits on the amount of nitrites used in meat products to decrease cancer risk in the population.

“Our findings highlight the importance of studying meat-related compounds to better understand the association between meat and cancer risk,” said Cross. “However comprehensive epidemiologic data on meat-related exposures and bladder cancer are lacking; our findings should be followed up in other prospective studies.”

Lynette Summerill is an award-winning writer who lives in Scottsdale, Arizona. In addition to writing about cancer-related issues, she writes a blog, Nonsmoking Nation, which follows global tobacco news and events.

Source: “Meat and components of meat and the risk of bladder cancer in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study.” Leah M. Ferrucci, Rashmi Sinha, Mary H. Ward, Barry I. Graubard, Albert R. Hollenbeck, Briseis A. Kilfoy, Arthur Schatzkin, Dominique S. Michaud, and Amanda J. Cross. CANCER; Published Online: August 2, 2010 (DOI: 10.1002/cncr.25463).

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