Phosphates May Raise Lung Cancer Risk

Lab Tests in Mice Link Diet High in Phosphate to Faster Lung Tumor Progression; Food Industry Questions Study

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on December 30, 2008
From the WebMD Archives

Dec. 30, 2008 -- New research suggests a possible link between lung cancer risk and phosphate.

Phosphate is a nutrient found in nature. Phosphates are also added to a variety of processed foods, including some baking mixes, colas, meat and poultry products, cheeses, canned tuna, puddings, toothpastes, and other products, according to background information on the web site of the International Food Additives Council (IFAC).

In the Jan. 1, 2009, edition of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, researchers report that when they increased the amount of phosphate in the diet of mice at high risk of developing lung cancer, those mice developed larger lung tumors that progressed faster.

In light of those findings, the researchers -- who included Hua Jin of Seoul National University in Seoul, South Korea -- write that "careful regulation of dietary consumption of [phosphate] may be critical for lung cancer prevention as well as treatment."

Jin's team didn't study phosphate and lung cancer in people.

In a news release, Jin's colleague, Myung-Haing Cho, DVM, PhD, of Seoul National University, says that "phosphate is an essential nutrient" but that high intake of inorganic phosphate may strongly stimulate lung cancer development" by altering certain chemical signaling pathways in the body.

The IFAC wasn't involved in the study; its members include producers and users of phosphates. In an email to WebMD, IFAC spokesperson Haley Stevens, PhD, writes that the new study is "very limited and not comparable to the food industry's numerous toxicological studies" and that it is "not scientifically credible to think that a minor alteration of the diet alone, such as reducing phosphate consumption, would be effective in preventing such a profound disease as lung cancer, which is known to be multifactorial" and most commonly caused by smoking.

Show Sources


Jin, H. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, Jan. 1, 2009; vol 179: pp 59-68.

Email from Haley Stevens, PhD, spokesman, International Food Additives Council.

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