Background: Heterocyclic amines formed in cooked meat and fish are carcinogenic in animal models and form DNA adducts in human beings. We undertook a study to assess whether these substances are related to the risks of cancer in the large bowel and urinary tract.
Methods: In a population-based case-control study, cases were identified from the Swedish cancer registry. Controls were randomly selected from the population register. Information on intake of various foods and nutrients was assessed by questionnaire, with photographs of foods cooked at various temperatures. We measured the content of heterocyclic amines in foods cooked under these conditions.
Findings: Information was retrieved from 553 controls, 352 cases of colon cancer, 249 cases of rectal cancer, 273 cases of bladder cancer, and 138 cases of kidney cancer. The response rate was 80% for controls and 70% for cases. The estimated daily median intake of heterocyclic amines was 77 ng for controls, and 66 ng, 63 ng, 96 ng, and 84 ng for cases with cancer of the colon, rectum, bladder, and kidney, respectively. The relative risk for the intake of heterocyclic amines (highest vs lowest quintile) was 0.6 (95% CI 0.4-1.0) for colon cancer, 0.7 (0.4-1.1) for rectal cancer, 1.2 (0.7-2.1) for bladder cancer, and 1.0 (0.5-1.9) for kidney cancer. Seven cases, but no controls, had an estimated daily intake of heterocyclic amines above 1900 ng.
Interpretation: Intake of heterocyclic amines, within the usual dietary range in this study population, is unlikely to increase the incidence of cancer in the colon, rectum, bladder, or kidney. For daily intakes above 1900 ng, our data are consistent with human carcinogenicity, but the precision was extremely low.