Association between Dietary Nitrate, Nitrite Intake, and Site-Specific Cancer Risk: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Nutrients. 2022 Feb 4;14(3):666. doi: 10.3390/nu14030666.


Background: People consume nitrates, nitrites, nitrosamines, and NOCs compounds primarily through processed food. Many studies have yielded inconclusive results regarding the association between cancer and dietary intakes of nitrates and nitrites. This study aimed to quantify these associations across the reported literature thus far.

Methods: We performed a systematic review following PRISMA and MOOSE guidelines. A literature search was performed using Web of Science, Embase, PubMed, the Cochrane library, and google scholar up to January 2020. STATA version 12.0 was used to conduct meta-regression and a two-stage meta-analysis.

Results: A total of 41 articles with 13 different cancer sites were used for analysis. Of these 13 cancer types/sites, meta-regression analysis showed that bladder and stomach cancer risk was greater, and that pancreatic cancer risk was lower with increasing nitrite intakes. Kidney and bladder cancer risk were both lower with increasing nitrate intakes. When comparing highest to lowest (reference) categories of intake, meta-analysis of studies showed that high nitrate intake was associated with an increased risk of thyroid cancer (OR = 1.40, 95% CI: 1.02, 1.77). When pooling all intake categories and comparing against the lowest (reference) category, higher nitrite intake was associated with an increased risk of glioma (OR = 1.12, 95% CI: 1.03, 1.22). No other associations between cancer risk and dietary intakes of nitrates or nitrites were observed.

Conclusion: This study showed varied associations between site-specific cancer risks and dietary intakes of nitrate and nitrite. Glioma, bladder, and stomach cancer risks were higher and pancreatic cancer risk was lower with higher nitrite intakes, and thyroid cancer risk was higher and kidney cancer risk lower with higher nitrate intakes. These data suggest type- and site-specific effects of cancer risk, including protective effects, from dietary intakes of nitrate and nitrite.

Keywords: cancer; dietary intake; humans; nitrate; nitrites; systematic review.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Diet / adverse effects
  • Glioma*
  • Humans
  • Nitrates / adverse effects
  • Nitrites* / adverse effects
  • Risk


  • Nitrates
  • Nitrites