BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in:  Health
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Background Briefings 
Medical notes 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Saturday, 16 February, 2002, 14:20 GMT
Vegetable 'link' to cancer
Green and root vegetables have most nitrates, say researchers
Vegetables could be one of the causes of the fast-growing gullet cancer, warns an ongoing study.

Researchers believe the increase in the use of nitrates since the Second World War may be to blame for the rise in this particular cancer.

Initial tests have revealed a link between high levels of nitrate - contained naturally in fruit and vegetables - and the cancer.

But researchers warn against cutting out the usually beneficial food straight away and are carrying out further tests.

Common in men

Professor Kenneth McColl is heading the study at Glasgow University with a team of 10 researchers.

He said reported cases of the disease have trebled in the last 20 years.

We are still carrying out this study and are certainly not saying people should stop eating vegetables

Prof Kenneth McColl

Gullet cancer - which occurs around the gastro-oesophaga junction where the oesophagus joins the stomach - kills more than 3,000 people in the UK every year.

It is three times more common in men than women.

Professor McColl said: "We are still carrying out this study and are certainly not saying people should stop eating vegetables.

"But our investigations have shown that there is definitely something happening here."

Further tests

The team found that human saliva plays a vital role in converting nitrates into carcinogens - which operate at the gastro-oesophageal junction.

They believe gullet cancer may be sparked in some people when the saliva they swallow first meets the acidic juices in the stomach.

Prof McColl and his team plan to carry out further tests on humans in an effort to judge the extent of the problem.

People in Scotland seem to be more affected that those in any other part of the UK.

Vegetables being cooked
Vegetables could contain high amounts of nitrates, the researchers warn

"Hopefully, with further human tests, we will be able to see exactly how and why this is taking place because at the moment it is a mystery, but one that is having severe consequences," Prof McColl added.

He warns that organic food would not be any healthier as it too contains substantial levels of nitrate, some coming from natural fertilisers such as manure.


He said this form of gullet cancer was now more common than stomach cancer in the UK - with some victims as young as 30.

And it is more common in countries with less sunlight where the majority of produce is grown under glass - such as the UK.

His team has received a 150,000 grant from the Scottish Executive to carry out the study.

Prof McColl said it was essential to determine if the permitted levels of nitrate fertilisers - which has fallen in recent years - is partly to blame.

Green and root vegetables contained the highest levels of nitrate, he said.

In the last 20 years, the number of people suffering this form of cancer in Scotland alone has risen from 450 to more than 1,100.

But the professor adds: "It is not alone, the rest of the UK is not that far behind."

See also:

04 Dec 01 | Scotland
Healthy foods 'leave sour taste'
13 Dec 01 | UK
Dangers of a poor diet
07 Dec 01 | Health
Till receipts tell 'fatty' story
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Health stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Health stories