Nitrate and nitrite are precursors of endogenously formed N-nitroso compounds (NOC), known animal carcinogens. Nitrosation reactions forming NOCs can be inhibited by vitamin C and other antioxidants. We prospectively investigated the association between dietary nitrate and nitrite intake and risk of colorectal cancer in the Shanghai Women's Health Study, a cohort of 73,118 women ages 40-70 residing in Shanghai. We evaluated effect modification by factors that affect endogenous formation of NOCs: vitamin C (at or above/below median) and red meat intake (at or above/below median). Nitrate, nitrite and other dietary intakes were estimated from a 77-item food frequency questionnaire administered at baseline. Over a mean of 11 years of follow-up, we identified 619 colorectal cancer cases (n = 383, colon; n = 236, rectum). Hazard ratios (HR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) were estimated using Cox proportional hazard regression. Overall, nitrate intake was not associated with colorectal cancer risk (HR = 1.08; 95% CI: 0.73-1.59). However, among women with vitamin C intake below the median (83.9 mg day(-1) ) and hence higher potential exposure to NOCs, risk of colorectal cancer increased with increasing quintiles of nitrate intake (highest vs. lowest quintile HR = 2.45; 95% CI: 1.15-5.18; p trend = 0.02). There was no association among women with higher vitamin C intake. We found no association between nitrite intake and risk of colorectal cancer overall or by intake level of vitamin C. Our findings suggest that high dietary nitrate intake among subgroups expected to have higher exposure to endogenously formed NOCs increases risk of colorectal cancer.
© 2013 UICC.