EPIC working groups

The Acrylamide Working Group

Acrylamide (AA) is a human neurotoxin and is currently classified by IARC as a Group 2A probable carcinogen. AA has been used since the 1950s as a chemical intermediate in numerous industrial applications. In 2002, it was discovered as a preparation by-product in heat-processed foods high in carbohydrate, such as snack foods, potato crisps, breads, cereal products, and coffee. In addition to dietary intake and potential exposure from chemicals or industrial processes that use polyacrylamide (i.e. flocculants, grouting materials, textile manufacture), the other major source of human exposure to AA is from tobacco smoking. Smokers have been observed to have higher levels of AA in their blood than non-smokers, and persons with higher consumption of some foods such as potato crisps and coffee have shown higher blood levels in some studies. AA is metabolized in the body to form the epoxide glycidamide (GA), a genotoxin. AA and GA form adducts with DNA and with amino acids in haemoglobin. Thus, AA and GA adducts with haemoglobin have been used to measure the relative internal doses of AA and GA between individuals. In the EPIC cohort, the main dietary sources of AA exposure based on 24-hour dietary recall data were bread, potatoes, crispbreads, cakes, and coffee.

An important aim of the EPIC Acrylamide Working Group is therefore to evaluate the foods that contribute to dietary AA intake, and to determine risks of developing cancer (endometrial, ovarian, pancreatic, breast, oesophageal, and other sites) in individuals with higher dietary consumption of AA. The Working Group also is investigating whether haemoglobin adduct biomarkers of AA and GA as measured in red blood cell fractions can improve the measurement of exposure and the prediction of chronic disease risk and survival. Other activities within the Working Group involve evaluations of the validity of AA intake measurements, descriptive analyses of intake patterns and biomarker levels, and effects of genetic variants in AA metabolism pathways. The Working Group will also evaluate AA intake and risk of neurodegenerative disease, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Selected publications

[EPIC publications on acrylamide]
  1. Vesper HW, Slimani N, Hallmans G et al. Cross-sectional study on acrylamide hemoglobin adducts in subpopulations from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) Study. J Agric Food Chem 2008 Aug 13;56(15):6046-53. PMID: 18624432

  2. Ferrari P, Freisling H, Duell EJ et al. Challenges in estimating the validity of dietary acrylamide measurements. Eur J Nutr 2013 Aug;52(5):1503-12. PMID: 23114503

  3. Freisling H, Moskal A, Ferrari P et al. Dietary acrylamide intake of adults in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition differs greatly according to geographical region. Eur J Nutr 2013 Jun;52(4):1369-80. PMID: 23238529

  4. Obón-Santacana M, Slimani N, Lujan-Barroso L et al. Dietary intake of acrylamide and pancreatic cancer risk in the EPIC cohort. Ann Oncol. 2013 Oct; 24(10):2645-51. PMID: 23857962
[Useful background information]
  1. IARC. Some industrial chemicals. IARC Monogr Eval Carcinog Risks Hum. 1994;60:1-560. PMID: 7869568

  2. Tareke E, Rydberg P, Karlsson P et al. Analysis of acrylamide, a carcinogen formed in heated foodstuffs. J Agric Food Chem 2002 Aug 14;50(17):4998-5006. PMID: 12166997

  3. Hogervorst JG, Baars BJ, Schouten LJ et al. The carcinogenicity of dietary acrylamide intake: a comparative discussion of epidemiological and experimental animal research. Crit Rev Toxicol. 2010 Jul;40(6):485-512. PMID: 20170357

Contact details/Working Group leader

Eric J Duell, PhD
Unit of Nutrition, Environment and Cancer
Cancer Epidemiology Research Program
Catalan Institute of Oncology (ICO)
Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL)
Avda Gran Via 199-203
08908 L’Hospitalet de Llobregat
Barcelona, Spain