Meat-related mutagens/carcinogens in the etiology of colorectal cancer

Environ Mol Mutagen. 2004;44(1):44-55. doi: 10.1002/em.20030.


Diets containing substantial amounts of red or preserved meats may increase the risk of various cancers, including colorectal cancer. This association may be due to a combination of factors such as the content of fat, protein, iron, and/or meat preparation (e.g., cooking or preserving methods). Red meat may be associated with colorectal cancer by contributing to N-nitroso compound (NOC) exposure. Humans can be exposed to NOCs by exogenous routes (from processed meats in particular) and by endogenous routes. Endogenous exposure to NOCs is dose-dependently related to the amount of red meat in the diet. Laboratory results have shown that meats cooked at high temperatures contain other potential mutagens in the form of heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). To investigate the role of these compounds, we have created separate databases for HCAs and PAHs, which we have used in conjunction with a validated meat-cooking food frequency questionnaire. The role of meat type, cooking methods, doneness levels, and meat-cooking mutagens has been examined in both case-control studies and prospective cohort studies, with mixed results. Here, we review the current epidemiologic knowledge of meat-related mutagens, and evaluate the types of studies that may be required in the future to clarify the association between meat consumption and colorectal cancer.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Ammonia / toxicity
  • Carcinogens / toxicity*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / chemically induced*
  • DNA Adducts
  • Diet*
  • Fatty Acids / toxicity
  • Heterocyclic Compounds / toxicity
  • Hot Temperature
  • Humans
  • Meat / adverse effects*
  • Mutagens / toxicity*
  • Nitroso Compounds / toxicity
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / toxicity
  • Risk Factors
  • Urine / chemistry


  • Carcinogens
  • DNA Adducts
  • Fatty Acids
  • Heterocyclic Compounds
  • Mutagens
  • Nitroso Compounds
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons
  • Ammonia