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Phosphates in Soda, Meats May Increase Skin Cancer Risk


A diet that is high in phosphates, which are found in soda, processed meats, baked goods, and many other foods, may increase the risk of skin cancer, while limiting phosphates may help prevent cancer. This finding comes from research conducted at Emory University School of Medicine.

Phosphorus is an essential mineral found in nature combined with oxygen as phosphate. Phosphate is an important part of a healthy diet, as it is critical for energy production, DNA formation, and bone health. Phosphate also has a role in chemical reactions that involve enzymes called oncogenes, which regulate the division of cancer cells. Elevated levels of phosphate may disrupt the balance of chemical processes in the body that lead to the formation of cancer.

Investigators used a mouse model to test the impact of a high phosphate diet on cancer formation. They found that such a diet increased the number of skin papillomas (benign skin tumors) by 50 percent when compared with mice who received a low phosphate diet. Skin papillomas are an initial sign of skin cancer, which may then become malignant.

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George Beck, PhD, assistant professor of medicine and a member of the Winship Cancer Institute at Emory University, notes that he and his colleagues also discovered that bone cells divided more rapidly and produced cancer-related proteins when in the presence of high phosphate. “Another way to look at it is that a low-phosphate diet may help prevent cancer,” he said. The impact of dietary phosphates has been explored in earlier studies.

Previous research has shown an association between phosphate intake and cancer. A study published in Cancer Investigation reported on a link between low phosphorus intake and a reduced risk of prostate cancer. In a January 2009 study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, researchers reported that high intake of phosphates may increase the risk for and proliferation of lung cancer. Yet another study suggested that high phosphorus is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

The average intake of phosphate (phosphorus) for Americans older than 2 years is 1,334 mg, according to the Department of Agriculture (2006 data), while the RDA is 1,250 for children and adolescents and 700 mg for adults. Dietary intake of phosphate has increased over the past three decades, largely because it is added to many foods to improve shelf life and texture.

The results of the Emory University study suggest that high intake of phosphates may contribute to the development of skin cancer. Other research has already suggested that too much phosphate in the diet may cause or contribute to other serious diseases. It may be wise for consumers to limit their intake of foods high in phosphates, including meats, sodas, and processed foods.

Dhingra R et al. Archives of Internal Medicine 2007 May 14; 167(9): 879-85
Kapur S. Cancer Investigation 2000; 18(7): 664-69
Emory University School of Medicine