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October 31, 2011 | 2 minute read

Hot Dogs, Processed Meat & Colon Cancer Risk: Are Nitrates Responsible?

Last week, at the American Association of Cancer Research (AACR) conference, Dr. Sidney Mirvish presented data from a study which he interprets as strongly suggestive that nitrates are not the agent responsible for higher risk of colon cancer among those whose diets are high in processed meats like hot dogs.

Several in the media and the meat industry are hailing the data as casting doubt on the link between diets high in these foods and colon cancer.

Here’s our take, based on the comprehensive analyses of the global scientific literature found in the AICR/WCRF Expert Report, Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective, and our 2011 Continuous Update Project: Colorectal Cancer.


1.  Nitrates are only one possible reason for the observed increased risk associated with diets high in processed meats like hot dogs, cold cuts, bacon and sausage.  You can find more information in this AICR leaflet.

2.  The findings of an individual, as-yet-unpublished study cannot change the clear and convincing evidence that AICR and WCRF have evaluated, which shows that diets featuring processed meat increase colorectal cancer risk.

3.  We at AICR welcome the kind of research that seeks to identify the agent or agents in processed meat responsible for the increased risk. Once this study, and others like it, are published and peer-reviewed, they will be added to our Continuous Update Project (CUP) — the largest scientific database on diet and cancer risk in the world — and contribute to our understanding of this issue. They may even ultimately lead to development of processed meats that can be enjoyed without cancer concerns.

4.  In the meantime, however, hot dogs and other processed meats remain foods to reserve for special occasions.

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