Cigarettes might not be the only “cancer sticks.” Nitrites and nitrates — chemicals added to processed meats such as hot dogs and bologna for preservation, color and flavor — have been linked to bladder cancer, according to a study by the National Cancer Institute in Rockville, Maryland. The study appeared August 2nd in the journal Cancer and was first reported by Reuters.

The study was based on data collected by the National Institutes of Health and AARP from 1995 to 2003 from more than 300,000 men and women aged 50 to 71. About 70,000 Americans are diagnosed with bladder cancer each year. Smoking and exposure to arsenic are other risk factors.

“We investigated whether compounds found in meat, formed either during the meat-cooking process — heterocyclic amines or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons — or during meat preservation — nitrates and nitrites — were associated with bladder cancer,” senior researcher Dr. Amanda Cross of the National Cancer Institute in Rockville, Maryland, told Reuters.

Participants in the study filled out questionnaires on what meat they consumed and how it was prepared and cooked. The researchers then matched the data to laboratory-measured meat components.

The researchers found that the top fifth of participants in terms of processed red meat consumption had about a 30 percent greater risk of being diagnosed with bladder cancer than those whose consumption ranked in the bottom fifth.

During the cooking process, nitrites and nitrates combine with other chemicals that are naturally present in meat to form potentially cancer-causing compounds, which may then make their way through the urinary tract, including the bladder, where they may hunker down and cause cancer. Researchers emphasize that more study is needed to confirm the blame.

“Our findings highlight the importance of studying meat-related compounds to better understand the association between meat and cancer risk,” Cross said in an NCI news release.

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