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Processed meats and risk of childhood leukemia (California, USA)


The relation between the intake of certain food items thought to be precursors or inhibitors of N-nitroso compounds (NOC) and risk of leukemia was investigated in a case-control study among children from birth to age 10 years in Los Angeles County, California (United States). Cases were ascertained through a population-based tumor registry from 1980 to 1987. Controls were drawn from friends and by random-digit dialing. Interviews were obtained from 232 cases and 232 controls. Food items of principal interest were: breakfast meats (bacon, sausage, ham); luncheon meats (salami, pastrami, lunch meat, corned beef, bologna); hot dogs; oranges and organge juice; and grapefruit and grapefruit juice. We also asked about intake of apples and apple juice, regular and charcoal broiled meats, milk, coffee, and coke or cola drinks. Usual consumption frequencies were determined for both parents and the child. When the risks were adjusted for each other and other risk factors, the only persistent significant associations were for children's intake of hot dogs (odds ratio [OR]=9.5, 95 percent confidence interval [CI]=1.6–57.6 for 12 or more hot dogs per month, trendP=0.01), and fathers' intake of hot dogs (OR=11.0, CI=1.2–98.7 for highest intake category, trendP=0.01). There was no evidence that fruit intake provided protection. While these results are compatible with the experimental animal literature and the hypothesis that human NOC intake is associated with leukemia risk, given potential biases in the data, further study of this hypothesis with more focused and comprehensive epidemiologic studies is warranted.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to John M. Peters.

Additional information

This work was supported by contract No. 799-24 from the Electric Power Research Institute and NIOSH Grant No. R010H01413. Cancer incidence data have been collected under Subcontract 050C-8709 with the California Public Health Foundation. The subcontract is supported by the California Department of Health Services as part of its statewide cancer reporting program, mandated by Heatth and Safety Code section 210 and 211.3. The ideas and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors, and no endorsement of the State of California, Department of Health Services or the California Public Health Foundation is intended or should be inferred.

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Peters, J.M., Preston-Martin, S., London, S.J. et al. Processed meats and risk of childhood leukemia (California, USA). Cancer Causes Control 5, 195–202 (1994).

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Key words

  • Childhood leukemia
  • hot dogs
  • processed meats
  • nitrites
  • N-nitroso compounds
  • United States