Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in developed countries such as the U.K., but incidence rates around the world vary approx. 20-fold. Diet is thought to be a key factor determining risk: red and processed meat, but not white meat or fish, are associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer. The endogenous formation of N-nitroso compounds is a possible explanation because red and processed meat, but not white meat or fish, cause a dose-dependent increase in faecal ATNCs (apparent total N-nitroso compounds) and the formation of nitroso-compound-specific DNA adducts in humans. Red meat is particularly rich in haem which has been found to promote the endogenous formation of ATNC. Nitrosyl haem and nitroso thiols have been identified as major constituents of both faecal and ileal ATNC with a significant increase in the formation of these compounds following a diet rich in red meat. In vitro incubations show that, under simulated gastric conditions, nitroso thiols are the main species of nitroso compound formed, suggesting that acid-catalysed thionitrosation is the initial step in the endogenous formation of nitroso compounds. Nitrosyl haem and other nitroso compounds can then form under the alkaline and reductive conditions of the small and large bowel.

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