ARCHIVED - Health Canada reviews epidemiological studies on dietary acrylamide intake and the risk of endometrial, ovarian and/or breast cancer.

Health Canada scientists have reviewed the results of 2 epidemiological studies on dietary acrylamide intake and the risk of endometrial, ovarian and/or breast cancer1 2, which were published in the scientific journals Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention in November 2007 and International Journal of Cancer in January 2008, respectively.

Acrylamide is a chemical that is formed in certain foods when a natural amino acid called asparagine reacts with certain naturally occurring sugars such as glucose during processing or cooking at high temperatures, and is known to cause cancer in animals.

The first study, an 11-year prospective study of cancer incidence in a cohort of post-menopausal Dutch women has detected a small, but significantly increased risk of endometrial and ovarian cancer, but not breast cancer, associated with intake of acrylamide from food.

This is the first comprehensive epidemiological study to report an association between dietary acrylamide intake and endometrial and ovarian cancers, but it is not conclusive of a cause-effect relationship. The study’s authors have encouraged other researchers to prospectively investigate the association between dietary acrylamide intake and cancer in hormone-sensitive organs.

Health Canada scientists noted that this first study was well-conducted but that the applicability of the results to Canadian women may be limited by differences in dietary habits between the group of post-menopausal Dutch women in this study and the Canadian population in terms of the foods making the major contribution to acrylamide intake.

The second study, a retrospective, nested case-control design used hemoglobin markers of exposure to acrylamide and its major metabolite to estimate dose. One statistically significant positive result was found between hemoglobin markers for acrylamide and estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer, but other positive associations failed to reach statistical significance.

Health Canada scientists had concerns over both the validity of the biomarkers used in this study and the authors’ statistical analyses and their interpretations of the data, which led to their questioning the findings of the study. On this basis, it was considered that the association between acrylamide exposure and breast cancer was inconclusive.

Research into the health impacts of acrylamide is ongoing, and additional information on the carcinogenic risk of acrylamide is awaiting the results of comprehensive rodent assays being evaluated at the United States National Center for Toxicology Research.

In light of the results of these new epidemiology studies, Health Canada reiterates its previous advice to eat fried or deep-fried foods and snacks such as French fries and potato chips less often, while enjoying a variety of foods according to Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide.

Health Canada’s scientists continue to evaluate the human health risks associated with acrylamide exposure from food as new data and information become available, particularly as it relates to the Canadian context. As always, Health Canada will continue to keep Canadians informed.

1 Hogervorst et al. 2007. A prospective study of dietary acrylamide intake and the risk of endometrial, ovarian and breast cancer. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 16(11): 2304-2313

2 Olesen et al. 2008. Acrylamide exposure and incidence of breast cancer among postmenopausal women in the Danish Diet, Cancer and Health Study. Int J Cancer online Jan 8, 2008.

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