Toxicological evaluation of nitrosamines in condoms

Int J Hyg Environ Health. 2001 Nov;204(2-3):103-10. doi: 10.1078/1438-4639-00087.


Volatile N-nitrosamines have been found in rubber products including gloves, balloons, toys, baby bottle teats, soothers, and condoms. N-Nitrosamines are potent carcinogens, and therefore, European legislation has limited the release of N-nitrosamines and N-nitrosatable compounds in teats and soothers to 0.01-0.1 mg/kg rubber, respectively. Previously, endogenous nitrosamine formation in the vagina has been suggested as a cause of cervical cancer. It was speculated that exogenous N-nitrosamines and N-nitrosatable compounds from condoms may also lead to genital cancer. Therefore, we reviewed the literature and calculated the risk for the induction of tumors by nitrosamines from condoms. In vitro Biaudet et al. (1997) found up to 88 ng nitrosatable compounds migrating from condoms to cervical mucous within 24 hrs. During sexual intercourse about 0.6 ng may migrate in the female genital mucous membranes because of the short contact to the condom, e.g. 10 min. Comparable amounts of nitrosamines may also migrate in the penile skin. Estimating 1500 contacts to condoms during lifetime (50 condoms/year for 30 years) this may result in the adsorption of up to 0.9 microgram nitrosamines in total. Animal studies in Syrian hamsters showed the induction of local and/or systemic tumors, in particular liver tumors, after topical application of nitrosamines to the skin or mucous membrane at a total dose of about 1 g. This dose exceeds the dose to be expected from contact with condoms by more than 1 million. Also, epidemiological studies do not support a role for condoms in the induction of cancer. The incidence of cervical cancer and liver tumors is high in developing countries, where condoms are seldom used. In addition, humans are regularly exposed to nitrosamines from food and tobacco smoke at a dose which is 1,000 to 10,000 fold higher than expected from condom use. In summary, the risk for the induction of tumors from nitrosamines in condoms is very low.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Condoms*
  • Cricetinae
  • Epidemiologic Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Liver Neoplasms / etiology
  • Male
  • Mesocricetus
  • Neoplasms / etiology
  • Nitrosamines / adverse effects*
  • Nitrosamines / analysis
  • Nitrosamines / pharmacokinetics
  • Penile Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Vagina / chemistry


  • Nitrosamines