Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Cancer Health Center

Font Size

Aspartame-Cancer Link Refuted

Findings May Help to Alleviate Concerns Raised by Rat Study Last Year
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

April 4, 2006 (Washington) -- Diet soda lovers may be able to sip a little easier, thanks to a new study that shows that the artificial sweetener aspartame does not raise the risk of cancer.

Last year, an Italian study of rats linked low doses of aspartame -- the sweetener in NutraSweet, Equal, and thousands of consumer products -- to leukemia and lymphoma.

But the new study -- conducted in people, not rats -- found no such link. Nor did the popular sugar substitute raise the risk of brain cancer, says researcher Unhee Lim, PhD, of the National Cancer Institute.

The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research here.

No Link to Cancer

Lim and colleagues studied 473,984 men and women, aged 50 to 71, participating in the National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health Study.

In 1995 and 1996, participants were asked how much they drank of three popular diet beverages -- soda, fruit drinks, and iced tea. They were also asked if they added aspartame to their coffee and tea.

From their answers, the researchers calculated how much aspartame they consumed on a daily basis.

During the next five years, 1,972 of them developed lymphoma or leukemia, and 364 developed brain tumors.

When the researchers looked at people who consumed an average of at least 400 milligrams of aspartame a day -- about the amount found in two cans of soda -- there was no link between aspartame consumption and any of these cancers.

Findings Somewhat Reassuring

Michael Jacobson, head of the consumer watchdog group Center for Science in the Public Interest, says the findings are somewhat reassuring.

Jacobson, who had pushed for a government review of aspartame's safety after the rat study was published, says, "The new study is in humans and goes a long way toward alleviating many concerns."

That said, the study design was subject to so-called recall bias, as participants were asked to remember what they drank and how much they drank, he says.

"If their recollections weren't accurate, it compromises the findings," Jacobson tells WebMD.

Lim acknowledges the point. She says that is one reason why she is not ready to make any public health recommendations about aspartame consumption at this time.

"This is a first step," she tells WebMD. "We need to verify the findings and also study possible links between the sweetener and other cancers as well."

Today on WebMD

Colorectal cancer cells
New! I AM Not Cancer Facebook Group
Lung cancer xray
See it in pictures, plus read the facts.
sauteed cherry tomatoes
Fight cancer one plate at a time.
Ovarian cancer illustration
Real Cancer Perspectives
Jennifer Goodman Linn self-portrait
what is your cancer risk
colorectal cancer treatment advances
breast cancer overview slideshow
prostate cancer overview
lung cancer overview slideshow
ovarian cancer overview slideshow
Actor Michael Douglas