Saccharin Deleted From U.S. List of Carcinogens

From Reuters

The latest U.S. government report on what causes cancer, issued Monday, removed saccharin from the list of suspected carcinogens but added 14 substances, including second-hand tobacco smoke and alcohol, as known causes.

It also added sunshine and sunlamps, silica dust and the breast-cancer drug tamoxifen--although the report noted that while cancer drugs may increase the incidence of other cancers, the benefits often outweigh the risks.

The National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences, which issued the report, said it removed saccharin as a potential cancer-causing agent because tests that showed it caused tumors in rats did not apply to humans. It had been listed since 1981.


“Two decades ago, when saccharin was shown to produce bladder tumors in rats, it was a prudent, protective step to consider the sweetener to be a likely human carcinogen,” institute director Dr. Kenneth Olden said in a statement.

“Studies now indicate that the rat-bladder tumors arise from mechanisms that are not relevant to the human situation.”

He also said humans had used saccharin for decades without increasing rates of cancer.

Saccharin, sold since 1900, is the oldest sugar substitute on the market.

But the Food and Drug Administration tried to ban it in 1977 when it was found to cause cancer in rats.

The U.S. public, faced with the loss of diet sodas, rebelled and Congress blocked the action. Products containing saccharin now carry a warning label instead.

When aspartame became available in 1981, it quickly dominated the artificial sweetener market, in part because of superior flavor and in part because of the cancer worries.

“The government is making a serious mistake in delisting saccharin,” Michael Jacobson, director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said in a statement .

The center said it could take as long as 40 years to tell whether saccharin causes cancer in humans.

But the center praised the decision to add alcohol to the list, and said it might persuade other government agencies to stop alcoholic beverage makers from placing health claims on the labels of their products.

Moderate intake of alcohol has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease.

The federal institute also removed ethyl acrylate, a substance used in making latex paints and textiles, from the list. The report listed 218 substances known or suspected to cause cancer in people.

The institute said 14 had either been upgraded to the “known” category or added to the list.

Second-hand smoke topped the upgraded list.