Aspartame and cancer - new evidence for causation

Environ Health. 2021 Apr 12;20(1):42. doi: 10.1186/s12940-021-00725-y.


Background: Aspartame is one of the world's most widely used artificial sweeteners and is an ingredient in more than 5000 food products globally. A particularly important use is in low-calorie beverages consumed by children and pregnant women. The Ramazzini Institute (RI) reported in 2006 and 2007 that aspartame causes dose-related increases in malignant tumors in multiple organs in rats and mice. Increased cancer risk was seen even at low exposure levels approaching the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI). Prenatal exposures caused increased malignancies in rodent offspring at lower doses than in adults. These findings generated intense controversy focused on the accuracy of RI's diagnoses of hematopoietic and lymphoid tissue tumors (HLTs). Critics made the claim that pulmonary lesions observed in aspartame-exposed animals were inflammatory lesions caused by Mycoplasma infection rather than malignant neoplasms.

Methods: To address this question, RI subjected all HLTs from aspartame-exposed animals to immunohistochemical analysis using a battery of markers and to morphological reassessment using the most recent Internationally Harmonized Nomenclature and Diagnostic (INHAND) criteria.

Findings: This immunohistochemical and morphological re-evaluation confirmed the original diagnoses of malignancy in 92.3% of cases. Six lesions originally diagnosed as lymphoma (8% of all HLTs) were reclassified: 3 to lymphoid hyperplasia, and 3 to chronic inflammation with fibrosis. There was no evidence of Mycoplasma infection.

Interpretation: These new findings confirm that aspartame is a chemical carcinogen in rodents. They confirm the very worrisome finding that prenatal exposure to aspartame increases cancer risk in rodent offspring. They validate the conclusions of the original RI studies. These findings are of great importance for public health. In light of them, we encourage all national and international public health agencies to urgently reexamine their assessments of aspartame's health risks - especially the risks of prenatal and early postnatal exposures. We call upon food agencies to reassess Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) levels for aspartame. We note that an Advisory Group to the International Agency for Research on Cancer has recommended high-priority reevaluation of aspartame's carcinogenicity to humans.

Keywords: Artificial sweetener; Aspartame; Cancer; Carcinogenicity; Leukemia; Pulmonary lymphoma; Ramazzini institute; Tumors.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Aspartame / toxicity*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Neoplasms / chemically induced*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Sweetening Agents / toxicity*


  • Sweetening Agents
  • Aspartame