Dietary nitrate and nitrite and the risk of thyroid cancer in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study

Int J Cancer. 2011 Jul 1;129(1):160-72. doi: 10.1002/ijc.25650. Epub 2010 Nov 18.


During the past several decades, an increasing incidence of thyroid cancer has been observed worldwide. Nitrate inhibits iodide uptake by the thyroid, potentially disrupting thyroid function. An increased risk of thyroid cancer associated with nitrate intake was recently reported in a cohort study of older women in Iowa. We evaluated dietary nitrate and nitrite intake and thyroid cancer risk overall and for subtypes in the National Institutes of Health-American Association of Retired Persons (NIH-AARP) Diet and Health Study, a large prospective cohort of 490,194 men and women, ages 50-71 years in 1995-1996. Dietary intakes were assessed using a 124-item food frequency questionnaire. During an average of 7 years of follow-up we identified 370 incident thyroid cancer cases (170 men, 200 women) with complete dietary information. Among men, increasing nitrate intake was positively associated with thyroid cancer risk (relative risk [RR] for the highest quintile versus lowest quintile RR = 2.28, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.29-4.041; p-trend <0.001); however, we observed no trend with intake among women (p-trend = 0.61). Nitrite intake was not associated with risk of thyroid cancer for either men or women. We evaluated risk for the two main types of thyroid cancer. We found positive associations for nitrate intake and both papillary (RR = 2.10; 95% CI: 1.09-4.05; p-trend = 0.05) and follicular thyroid cancer (RR = 3.42; 95% CI: 1.03-11.4; p-trend = 0.01) among men. Nitrite intake was associated with increased risk of follicular thyroid cancer (RR = 2.74; 95%CI: 0.86-8.77; p-trend = 0.04) among men. Our results support a role of nitrate in thyroid cancer risk and suggest that further studies to investigate these exposures are warranted.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Diet Records
  • Diet*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nitrates / administration & dosage*
  • Nitrites / administration & dosage*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / chemically induced*


  • Nitrates
  • Nitrites