Increased Risk of Bladder Cancer Linked to Cured Meats


New research further links bladder cancer to red meat. The consumption of red meat has long been associated with the increased risk of certain cancers, and processed meats are linked to an increased risk of heart disease. New research further expands on that correlation, finding that meats - particularly those processed meats that contain sodium nitrite - increase the risk of bladder cancer.

Red Meat Consumption Increases Risk of Bladder Cancer

Dr. Amanda Cross and a team of researchers at the National Cancer Institute in Rockville MD analyzed data on 300,000 men and women from eight states aged 50 to 71 years who participated in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study in the mid-1990’s. The research participants were observed for up to eight years and during that time 854 were diagnosed with bladder cancer.

Bladder Cancer Risk Nearly 30% High

Adults who ate the highest levels of nitrites and nitrates were nearly 30% more likely to get bladder cancer than those who consumed the least.

Sodium nitrite (NaNO2) and sodium nitrate (NaNO3) are salt compounds that are used to cure meats such as ham, bacon, and hot dogs. They also act as preservatives to prevent spoilage from bacteria such as botulism and as a color and flavor enhancer. Both nitrates and nitrites are precursors to N-nitroso compounds, which in animal studies have been associated to the increased risk of developing several different types of cancer.


Sodium nitrite, in particular, is thought to react with acid and other chemicals in the stomach to produce nitrosamines, another compound linked to cancer in animals. It is unknown at what levels nitrosamines are formed in humans after they eat cured meat products, or what constitutes a dangerous level.

Read: Salty Processed Meats Increase Heart Disease Risk

The US Food and Drug Administration is the federal agency responsible for validating data related to the safety of food additives, such as nitrites and nitrates. The USDA is responsible for monitoring the proper use of the compounds in meat products to ensure that they are not present in amounts exceeding 200 ppm.

Read: Red Meat and Obesity Raise Risk of Colon Cancer

Commenting on the latest findings, Dr. Cross said in a statement: "Our findings highlight the importance of studying meat-related compounds to better understand the association between meat and cancer risk.” She added: "Comprehensive epidemiologic data on meat-related exposures and bladder cancer are lacking; our findings should be followed up in other prospective studies.”

The study is published online in CANCER, a journal of the American Cancer Society.


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Always wondered about the risk of bladder cancer and red meat. What will it take to stop eating meat at all?