Aldehydes: occurrence, carcinogenic potential, mechanism of action and risk assessment

Mutat Res. Mar-Apr 1991;259(3-4):363-85. doi: 10.1016/0165-1218(91)90128-9.


Aldehydes constitute a group of relatively reactive organic compounds. They occur as natural (flavoring) constituents in a wide variety of foods and food components, often in relatively small, but occasionally in very large concentrations, and are also widely used as food additives. Evidence of carcinogenic potential in experimental animals is convincing for formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, limited for crotonaldehyde, furfural and glycidaldehyde, doubtful for malondialdehyde, very weak for acrolein and absent for vanillin. Formaldehyde carcinogenesis is a high-dose phenomenon in which the cytotoxicity plays a crucial role. Cytotoxicity may also be of major importance in acetaldehyde carcinogenesis but further studies are needed to prove or disprove this assumption. For a large number of aldehydes (relevant) data on neither carcinogenicity nor genotoxicity are available. From epidemiological studies there is no convincing evidence of aldehyde exposure being related to cancer in humans. Overall assessment of the cancer risk of aldehydes in the diet leads to the conclusion that formaldehyde, acrolein, citral and vanillin are no dietary risk factors, and that the opposite may be true for acetaldehyde, crotonaldehyde and furfural. Malondialdehyde, glycidaldehyde, benzaldehyde, cinnamaldehyde and anisaldehyde cannot be evaluated on the basis of the available data. A series of aldehydes should be subjected to at least mutagenicity, cytogenicity and cytotoxicity tests. Priority setting for testing should be based on expected mechanism of action and degree of human exposure.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aldehydes / analysis
  • Aldehydes / chemistry
  • Aldehydes / toxicity*
  • Animals
  • Carcinogens / analysis
  • Carcinogens / chemistry
  • Carcinogens / toxicity
  • Food Contamination
  • Humans
  • Mutagens / analysis
  • Mutagens / chemistry
  • Mutagens / toxicity
  • Risk


  • Aldehydes
  • Carcinogens
  • Mutagens