Does using plastic bottles and containers cause cancer?

  • Using plastics doesn’t increase the risk of cancer
     
  • It is safe to drink from plastic bottles, use plastic containers, cling film and store food in plastic bags
     
  • Even where plastics are heated for hours at a time, studies have shown that the food inside is safe to eat

Using plastics doesn’t cause cancer. This includes drinking from plastic bottles and using plastic containers and bags to store food in.

 

Should I avoid food and drink stored in plastic?

Cutting down on using plastics won’t affect your cancer risk. But it can have environmental benefits.

In the UK, the Food Standard Agency makes sure plastics and other materials used for food and drink are safe. You can find out more about the Food Standards Agency here.

 

Does bisphenol A (BPA) cause cancer?

Food and drink that’s stored in plastic with BPA doesn’t cause cancer.

Some people thought that chemicals that in some plastics, like bisphenol A (BPA) could get into our food or drink and then cause cancer.

Studies have found that certain chemicals in plastics may end up in things we may eat and drink. But the levels are very low, and within a range considered safe to humans. This is even true in experiments where plastics are heated for hours at a time.

Other studies have suggested some chemicals found in certain plastics have cancer-causing effects. But these experiments involve human cells in a lab, or animals. These are very different from how people would come into contact with plastics in their everyday life. And they don’t give good evidence on cancer risk in humans.

For example, in these studies, lots of a chemical may be put directly on to one type of cell. This wouldn’t happen in the human body.

 

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

 

We regularly review new research on the causes of cancer to make sure our information is up to date and based on the best quality evidence. We develop our information by looking at lots of research carried out over many years. So, although new research comes out all the time, it is unlikely that one new study would change our position on a topic.  

Some studies are better than others at telling us about how different factors affect cancer risk. These are some of the things we consider:

  • Did the study look at cells, animals or people?

Studies in animals and cells can help scientists understand how cancer works, but they can’t always tell us how it’s relevant to humans. So we focus on studies in people.

  • How big is the study and how long did it go on for?

Studies on small numbers of people aren’t as reliable, because results are more likely to happen by chance. And studies that only follow people for a short amount of time can miss long-term effects. So we mainly look at studies that follow thousands of people over many years.

  • Did the study account for other factors that could affect someone’s cancer risk?

There are lots of factors that can affect someone’s risk of cancer. Studies should take known risk factors into account. For example, if a study is looking at air pollution and lung cancer, it should also look at whether participants smoked.

  • Where is the study published and who funded it?

It’s important to see if a study is published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. This means that other experts have checked the results. It’s also important to know who funded the study, as this can affect the findings. For example, Cancer Research UK disregards research funded by the tobacco industry.

How to find accurate information on cancer

Sometimes news outlets exaggerate stories about cancer. It’s helpful to think about some of the questions above to judge a news story. But the most important thing is to get information from a trusted source– for example our website and the NHS.

One way of knowing if you can trust health information is by checking if the Patient Information Forum (PIF) has accredited it. The PIF makes sure that information is based on up to date evidence and is high quality.

The Patient Information Forum tick looks like this.

Patient Information Tick

You can read more about spotting fake news on cancer on our blog.

Food Standards Agency. BPA in plastic. https://www.food.gov.uk/safety-hygiene/bpa-in-plastic. Published 2018. Accessed November 2021.

EFSA. Scientific Opinion on the risks to public health related to the presence of bisphenol A ( BPA ) in foodstuffs. . 2015;13:1-23. https://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/press/news/150121

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