Rodent carcinogens: setting priorities

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Science  09 Oct 1992:
Vol. 258, Issue 5080, pp. 261-265
DOI: 10.1126/science.1411524


The human diet contains an enormous background of natural chemicals, such as plant pesticides and the products of cooking, that have not been a focus of carcinogenicity testing. A broadened perspective that includes these natural chemicals is necessary. A comparison of possible hazards for 80 daily exposures to rodent carcinogens from a variety of sources is presented, using an index (HERP) that relates human exposure to carcinogenic potency in rodents. A similar ordering would be expected with the use of standard risk assessment methodology for the same human exposure values. Results indicate that, when viewed against the large background of naturally occurring carcinogens in typical portions of common foods, the residues of synthetic pesticides or environmental pollutants rank low. A similar result is obtained in a separate comparison of 32 average daily exposures to natural pesticides and synthetic pesticide residues in the diet. Although the findings do not indicate that these natural dietary carcinogens are important in human cancer, they cast doubt on the relative importance for human cancer of low-dose exposures to synthetic chemicals.

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