Systematic review of the relationship between artificial sweetener consumption and cancer in humans: analysis of 599,741 participants

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Abstract

Background:

The effect of artificial sweetener consumption on cancer risk has been debated in animal models for over four decades. To further investigate this relationship, this study aims to synthesise results from several of the most recent studies in humans.

Methods:

An online literature search was performed in MEDLINE from 2003 to 2014 using Ovid, PubMed, Web of Science, and Scopus using keywords ‘artificial’, ‘sweetener’ and ‘cancer’. Ninety-two results were then manually assessed for eligibility. Studies were included if the relationship between artificial sweeteners and cancer was their central hypothesis, and if they adjusted for age, gender, smoking status and body mass index. Extracted data included study design, patient characteristics, outcome measure and results.

Results:

In the five publications that satisfied the inclusion criteria, significant direct associations with artificial consumption were found for laryngeal (odds ratio, OR 2.34, 95% CI: 1.20–4.55), urinary tract tumours (OR 2.12, 95% CI: 1.22–3.89), non-Hodgkin lymphoma in men (RR 1.31, 95% CI: 1.01–1.72), multiple myeloma in men (RR 2.02, 95% CI: 1.20–3.40) and leukaemia (RR 1.42, 95% CI: 1.00–2.02). Inverse relationships were found in breast (OR 0.70, 95% CI: 0.54–0.91, p trend = 0.015) and ovarian (OR 0.56, 95% CI: 0.38–0.81, p trend < 0.001) cancers.

Conclusion:

The statistical value of this review is limited by the heterogeneity and observational designs of the included studies. Although there is limited evidence to suggest that heavy consumption may increase the risk of certain cancers, overall the data presented are inconclusive as to any relationship between artificial sweeteners and cancer.

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