Ingested nitrate, disinfection by-products, and kidney cancer risk in older women

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Friday, September 1, 2017
Rena R. Jones
Peter J. Weyer
Curt T. Dellavalle
Kim Robien
Kenneth P. Cantor
Stuart Krasner
Laura E. Beane Freeman
Mary H. Ward
Journal Title: 

N-nitroso compounds formed endogenously after nitrate/nitrite ingestion are animal renal carcinogens. Previous epidemiologic studies of drinking water nitrate did not evaluate other potentially toxic water contaminants, including the suspected renal carcinogen chloroform.

In a cohort of postmenopausal women in Iowa (1986–2010), we used historical measurements to estimate long-term average concentrations of nitrate-nitrogen (NO3−N) and disinfection by-products (DBP) in public water supplies. For NO3–N and the regulated DBP (total trihalomethanes [THM] and the sum of five haloacetic acids [HAA5]), we estimated the number of years of exposure above one-half the current maximum contaminant level (>½-MCL NO3–N; >5 mg/L). Dietary intakes were assessed via food frequency questionnaire. We estimated hazard ratios (HRs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) with Cox models, and evaluated interactions with factors influencing N-nitroso compound formation.

We identified 125 incident kidney cancers among 15,577 women reporting using water from public supplies >10 years. In multivariable models, risk was higher in the 95th percentile of average NO3–N (HRp95vsQ1 = 2.3; CI: 1.2, 4.3; P trend = 0.33) and for any years of exposure >½-MCL; adjustment for total THM did not materially change these associations. There were no independent relationships with total THM, individual THMs chloroform and bromodichloromethane, or with haloacetic acids. Dietary analyses yielded associations with high nitrite intake from processed meats but not nitrate or nitrite overall. We found no interactions.

Relatively high nitrate levels in public water supplies were associated with increased risk of renal cancer. Our results also suggest that nitrite from processed meat is a renal cancer risk factor.


Jones RR, Weyer PJ, DellaValle CT, Robien K, Cantor KP, Krasner S, Beane Freeman LE, Ward MH. Ingested nitrate, disinfection by-products, and kidney cancer risk in older women. Epidemiology. 2017 Sep 1;28(5):703-11. DOI: 10.1097/EDE.0000000000000647