Does acrylamide increase the risk of cancer?

Alan Greene, MD
High levels of acrylamide increases the risk of cancer in animals, so researchers believe there may be a link in humans, too. Watch as pediatrician Alan Greene, MD, discusses the foods you should eat and avoid, and who is most at risk.

Studies in rodent models have found that acrylamide exposure poses a risk for several types of cancer. However, the evidence from human studies is still incomplete. The National Toxicology Program (NTP) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer consider acrylamide to be a "probable human carcinogen," based on studies in laboratory animals given acrylamide in drinking water. However, toxicology studies have shown differences in acrylamide absorption rates between humans and rodents.

A series of case-control studies have investigated the relationship between dietary intake of acrylamide and the risk of developing cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx, esophagus, larynx, large bowel, kidney, breast, and ovary. These studies generally found no excess of tumors associated with acrylamide intake. In the studies, however, not all acrylamide-containing foods were included in estimating exposures. In addition, information in case-control studies about exposures is often based on interviews (personal or through questionnaires) with the case and control subjects, and these groups may differ in the accuracy of their recall about exposures. One factor that might influence recall accuracy in cancer-related dietary studies is that diets are often altered after receiving a diagnosis of cancer.

To avoid such limitations in accurately determining acrylamide exposure, biomarkers of exposure were recently used in a Danish cohort study designed to evaluate the subsequent risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women. Among women with higher levels of acrylamide bound to the hemoglobin in their blood, there was a statistically significant increase in risk of estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer. This finding suggests an endocrine hormone-related effect, which would be consistent with the results of a questionnaire-based cohort study in the Netherlands that found an excess of endometrial and ovarian cancer - but not of postmenopausal breast cancer - associated with higher levels of acrylamide exposure. Another cohort study from the Netherlands suggested a positive association between dietary acrylamide and the risk of renal cell cancer, but not of prostate or bladder cancer.

This answer is based on source information from the National Cancer Institute.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.