Risk of colorectal and other gastro-intestinal cancers after exposure to nitrate, nitrite and N-nitroso compounds: a follow-up study

Int J Cancer. 1999 Mar 15;80(6):852-6. doi: 10.1002/(sici)1097-0215(19990315)80:6<852::aid-ijc9>3.0.co;2-s.


N-nitroso compounds are potent carcinogens detected in foodstuffs. The importance of dietary nitrosamines in relation to human cancer development is, however, uncertain. We studied the relationship between intake of nitrates, nitrites and N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA) and risk of cancers of the gastro-intestinal tract in a cohort of 9,985 adult Finnish men and women. During a follow-up period of up to 24 years, 189 gastro-intestinal cancer cases were diagnosed in the cohort, initially free from cancer. Intake of nitrate, nitrite and NDMA were estimated, based on food-consumption data from a 1-year dietary history interview covering the total diet of the participants. A significant positive association was observed between intake of NDMA and subsequent occurrence of colorectal cancer with a relative risk (RR) between the highest and lowest quartiles of intake of 2.12 [95% confidence interval (CI) 1.04-4.33]. Of various sources of N-nitroso compounds, intake of smoked and salted fish was significantly (RR = 2.58, 95% CI 1.21-5.51) and intake of cured meat was non-significantly (RR = 1.84, 95% CI 0.98-3.47) associated with risk of colorectal cancer. No similar association was observed for intake of other fish or other meat. No significant associations were observed between NDMA intake and cancers of the head and neck combined or of the stomach or between nitrate or nitrite intake and risk of cancers of the gastro-intestinal tract. Our results are in line with the idea that N-nitroso compounds can induce colorectal cancer in humans.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Animals
  • Beer / adverse effects
  • Carcinogens / adverse effects*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / chemically induced*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Diet / adverse effects
  • Female
  • Finland / epidemiology
  • Fishes
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Food Preservation / methods
  • Food Preservatives / adverse effects*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Meat Products
  • Middle Aged
  • Nitrates / adverse effects*
  • Nitrites / adverse effects*
  • Nitrosamines / adverse effects
  • Nitroso Compounds / adverse effects*
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Risk
  • Smoke
  • Smoking / epidemiology
  • Sodium Chloride / adverse effects
  • Stomach Neoplasms / chemically induced*
  • Stomach Neoplasms / epidemiology


  • Carcinogens
  • Food Preservatives
  • Nitrates
  • Nitrites
  • Nitrosamines
  • Nitroso Compounds
  • Smoke
  • 4-nitrosodimethylaniline
  • Sodium Chloride