An epidemiologic approach to studying heterocyclic amines

Mutat Res. 2002 Sep 30;506-507:197-204. doi: 10.1016/s0027-5107(02)00166-5.


Diets containing substantial amounts of red meat may increase the risk of colorectal, pancreatic, breast, prostate, and renal cancer. The association with red meat intake may be due to a combination of factors, such as content of fat, protein, and iron, and/or meat preparation (e.g. cooking or preserving methods). Laboratory results have shown that meats cooked at high temperatures contain heterocyclic amines (HCAs) known to be mutagenic and carcinogenic in animals. Many older epidemiologic studies of colon cancer using surrogates for HCA exposure from meat (for example, doneness level, surface browning, frying, intake of gravy) have produced suggestive but inconsistent results. These discrepancies may have resulted in part from having used dietary questionnaires that combined meat-cooking practices in ways that made the intake of HCAs difficult to estimate. Thus, over the last decade we have taken a multidisciplinary approach to investigating whether the association with red meat intake can be explained by meat-cooking practices that produce mutagens/carcinogens. To estimate intake, a database for HCAs have been developed and used in conjunction with a validated meat-cooking food frequency questionnaire (FFQ). To develop biological markers of internal exposure, a metabolic study was conducted where subjects consumed controlled amounts of meat cooked at low and high temperatures. The role of meat type, cooking methods, doneness levels, and meat-cooking mutagens were examined in case-control studies of colorectal adenomas, lung, and breast cancers using both questionnaire information and biomarkers. In a case-control study of colorectal adenomas, an increased risk was associated with a high intake of red meat. Most of this risk was due to intake of red meat cooked until well/very well done and/or by high-temperature cooking techniques such as grilling. Linking the FFQ information to HCA database, the impact several HCAs on risk was evaluated. An increased risk was associated with higher intake of MeIQx, possibly PhIP. Red meat, especially fried and/or well-done red meat, was associated with increased risk of lung cancer in a population-based case-control study. In addition, an increase in risk was demonstrated among non-smokers and moderate smokers for MeIQx intake. In a case-control study of breast cancer well-done red meat and PhIP was associated with increased risk of breast cancer. In this manuscript I will provide one approach to studying the relation of meat cooking-mutagens and cancer risk and will suggest the types of studies that may be required in the future to clarify these associations.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amines
  • Animals
  • Carcinogens / adverse effects*
  • Cooking*
  • Diet
  • Dietary Proteins / administration & dosage
  • Epidemiologic Studies
  • Heterocyclic Compounds
  • Humans
  • Imidazoles / adverse effects*
  • Meat Products*
  • Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Quinoxalines / adverse effects*
  • Risk Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Amines
  • Carcinogens
  • Dietary Proteins
  • Heterocyclic Compounds
  • Imidazoles
  • Quinoxalines
  • 2-amino-3,8-dimethylimidazo(4,5-f)quinoxaline
  • 2-amino-1-methyl-6-phenylimidazo(4,5-b)pyridine