Diet and nasopharyngeal cancer in a low-risk population

Int J Cancer. 1998 Dec 9;78(6):675-9. doi: 10.1002/(sici)1097-0215(19981209)78:6<675::aid-ijc2>;2-j.


Asian studies have reported that risk of nasopharyngeal cancer (NPC) is increased in individuals who frequently consume salted fish, which contains high levels of N-nitroso compounds. As part of a collaborative, population-based, case-control study in the U.S., where the annual incidence of the disease is low, we investigated whether dietary intake of preformed nitrosamines or nitrosamine precursors, or of antioxidants including vitamin C and carotenoids, was associated with altered risk of NPC overall, or of specific histologic subtypes of disease. Cases (n = 133) identified at 5 population-based cancer registries and controls (n = 212) identified through random digit dialing completed a telephone interview and self-administered food frequency questionnaire. Dietary exposures were expressed as quartiles of intake, and odds ratios (ORs) calculated using the lowest quartile of intake as the reference category. Risk of non-keratinizing and undifferentiated tumors of the nasopharynx was increased in frequent consumers of preserved meats, which contain high levels of added nitrites. ORs in the 2nd, 3rd and highest quartile were 1.99, 4.35 and 4.59, although 95% confidence intervals did not exclude 1.0. Risk of differentiated squamous cell carcinoma, but not other histologic types, was significantly reduced in individuals with vitamin C intake above the lowest quartile (ORs 0.30, 0.33 and 0.30 in the 2nd, 3rd and highest quartiles, respectively). This association was markedly stronger among non-smokers and former smokers than among current smokers. Finally, individuals who reported consuming supplemental vitamins were at an approximately 50% reduced risk of NPC. Our results indicate that future studies should consider the effects of dietary risk factors on the risk of specific histologic subsets of NPC, and not assume that the disease is etiologically homogeneous.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • African Americans
  • Aged
  • Alcohol Drinking
  • Antioxidants / pharmacology*
  • Ascorbic Acid / pharmacology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Diet*
  • Educational Status
  • Energy Intake
  • European Continental Ancestry Group
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nasopharyngeal Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Nitrosamines / adverse effects*
  • Odds Ratio
  • Risk
  • Smoking
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • beta Carotene / pharmacology


  • Antioxidants
  • Nitrosamines
  • beta Carotene
  • Ascorbic Acid