Can eating burnt foods cause cancer?

No, it’s very unlikely that eating things like burnt toast or crispy potatoes will increase your cancer risk.

What is acrylamide?

The chemical is naturally found in foods, mainly carbohydrates, like bread and potatoes if they’ve been cooked at high temperatures for a long time. It can also be found in other foods such as biscuits, and coffee.

Studies in people have not shown that eating more foods higher in acrylamide increases cancer risk.

While it’s true that what you eat can affect our cancer risk, instead of timing your toast to the second, you can reduce your risk by eating a healthy balanced diet. This is one with more fruits and vegetables and foods high in fibre, like brown varieties of bread, rice and pasta, and eating less red and processed meat, and high calorie foods like crisps, chips and biscuits.

You can find more tips at cruk.org/diet.

There are many cancer myths, including eating burnt foods, that haven’t been proven to cause cancer. However, there are proven causes of cancer, and things you can do to reduce your risk.

Image showing that mobile phones, plastic bottles and cosmetics do not cause cancer

We regularly review and evaluate newly published research into the causes of cancer in order to shape our health information. And there are key things we look out for to evaluate any new study.

What type of study is it?

Was the study looking at cells in a dish, animals or people? Studies in animals and cells can help scientists understand the basics of cancer but they cannot replicate how things will work in humans.

So, we focus more on studies in people as they can show with much more certainty how something affects the risk of developing cancer in humans. The best studies also account for other factors that could affect someone’s cancer risk, such as whether they smoke or drink.

How many people were in the study, and how long were they followed for? Studies involving only a handful of people aren’t likely to be as reliable, because results are more likely to happen by chance. And studies that only follow people for a short timeframe can miss any potential long-term effects. Therefore, we mainly look at studies that follow hundreds or usually thousands of people for a long time because they give results we can be surer of.

Who carried out the study and where is it published?

It’s important to see if a study was published in a scientific journal and was carried out by scientists that work for a university or known institute. This is because before researchers can publish their findings in a journal, other experts who were not involved in the study will check it is accurate.

How does the study fit in with previous evidence?

Some studies show conflicting results, but we evaluate any new study within the context of all the available research and give more weight to the most rigorous scientific studies.

How to spot fake news about cancer?

Sometimes news outlets can over-inflate stories about cancer, whether it’s a new treatment, or news on what could lower or increase your risk of developing the disease. You can use the same questions we discussed above to judge a study and news story yourself.  For more tips on how to spot fake news visit our blog here.

Pelucchi C, Bosetti C, Galeone C, La Vecchia C. Dietary acrylamide and cancer risk: an updated meta-analysis. Int J Cancer. 2015;136:2912-2922.

Obon-Santacana M, Peeters PH, Freisling H, et al. Dietary intake of acrylamide and epithelial ovarian cancer risk in the european prospective investigation into cancer and nutrition (EPIC) cohort. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2015;24:291-297.

Obon-Santacana M, Kaaks R, Slimani N, et al. Dietary intake of acrylamide and endometrial cancer risk in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition cohort. Br J Cancer. 2014;111:987-997.

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