Common food additives known as phosphates may cause lung cancer tumours to grow faster, at least in mice, South Korean researchers reported recently.
Their tests suggest the additives – found in many soft drinks, baked goods and processed meats and cheese – may also lead to tumours developing in the first place.
“Our study indicates that increased intake of inorganic phosphates strongly stimulates lung cancer development in mice,” Dr Cho Myung Haing of Seoul National University, who led the study, said in a statement last month.
A diet high in phosphates “significantly increased the lung surface tumour lesions as well as the size,” the researchers wrote.
Dr Cho said the research suggests that cutting back on inorganic phosphates “may be critical for lung cancer treatment as well as prevention.”
Phosphates care critical to human nutrition and can be used in compounds that enrich calcium and iron content and prevent food from drying out.
However, Dr Cho said it is possible that some people get too much of it. In the 1990s, phosphorus-containing food additives contributed about 470mg per day to the average adult diet, he said. Now, people can get up to 1,000mg a day, he said.
The researches stressed their study, published in the American Journal Of Respiratory And Critical care Medicine, does not show that food additives contribute to cancer in people. It points to questions for human cancer researchers to study.
Lung cancer s the most common cancer killer worldwide, with 1.2 million people dying from it every year. Smoking is the most common cause but a majority of smokers do not develop lung cancer.
Dr Cho’s team found phosphate-rich diets affected the Akt gene, known to be involved in lung cancer, and suppressed another gene that can help slow cancer’s development.