Aspartame and cancer: should you stop drinking Diet Coke?

The artificial sweetener could soon be designated as "possibly carcinogenic to humans"

Diet Coke bottle on a spoonful of sweetener.
(Image credit: Illustrated | Gettyimages)

The World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) is set to deem aspartame, the artificial sweetener used in many diet sodas and chewing gums, "possibly carcinogenic to humans," Reuters reported at the end of June. The impending ruling "does not take into account how much of a product a person can safely consume," Reuters continued. Instead, the WHO and the Food and Agriculture Organization's Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) is set to decide appropriate consumption levels in a different report. Both analyses — the IARC's and the JECFA's — will be released on July 14.

But the unconfirmed news is already causing quite a stir. Aspartame has been considered safe for consumption since 1974 and was approved as a general sweetener in 1996, per Bloomberg. "There is broad consensus in the scientific and regulatory community that aspartame is safe," the American Beverage Association told the outlet. Still, however, this is not the first time research has shown a link between aspartame and cancer — last year, a study tied the sweetener to increased risks of "breast cancer ... and obesity-related cancers." The Center for Science in the Public Interest also flagged the artificial sweetener to the IARC back in 2014 and 2019, citing "compelling evidence that it causes cancer and is a potent carcinogen," Bloomberg continued. Assuming Reuters' reporting is correct, and the "possibly carcinogenic" classification is on its way, is it actually time to ditch diet soda?

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Devika Rao, The Week US

 Devika Rao has worked as a staff writer at The Week since 2022, covering science, the environment, climate and business. She previously worked as a policy associate for a nonprofit organization advocating for environmental action from a business perspective.