Do processed meats cause cancer?

Do processed meats cause cancer?

Sizzling hot dogs, greasy hamburgers and crispy bacon: It’s no secret that these delicious, indulgent foods are bad for your waistline and your overall health when consumed in excess. However, new studies have found that consuming processed and red meat actually increases cancer risk.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer agency of the World Health Organization, recently released their review of more than 800 studies and has classified processed meat as a carcinogen (a compound that causes cancer) and red meat as a probable carcinogen. This assessment puts processed meats in the same risk category as tobacco smoking (which is not to say that the two are equally dangerous).

"Classifying processed meat as carcinogenic and red meat as probably carcinogenic to humans is not unexpected," said Susan Gapstur of the American Cancer Society. "Indeed, based on earlier scientific studies, including findings from the American Cancer Society's Cancer Prevention Study II, the American Cancer Society has recommended limiting consumption of red and processed meat specifically since 2002."

The IARC found that consuming 1.8 ounces of processed meat per day increases a person’s risk of developing colorectal cancer by 18 percent. The overall risk of someone developing colorectal cancer is about 5 percent, so adding the processed meat factor bumps that up by about 6 percent.

1.8 ounces, or 50 grams, would equal about four strips of bacon or one hot dog. A slice of salami is 9 to 12 grams, and a pepperoni is 2 grams. Americans eat, on average, 21.7 grams of processed pork per day, according to a National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

What meats fall under the “processed” category? Think bacon, bologna, sausage, hot dogs, ham, some kinds of deli meats—basically any meat that has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking or other preservation or flavor-enhancing processes. Red meats, which have been dubbed “probable carcinogens,” include beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse and goat.

So what is it about processed meats that makes them dangerous to your health? They undergo high-temperature cooking methods, such as cooking with flames, which make them produce carcinogenic compounds. However, research hasn’t reached a specific conclusion as to why they affect cancer risk.

The IACR concluded that these findings only underline the general recommendation to maintain an active lifestyle and a healthy diet with an emphasis on plant-based foods and a limited amount of processed and red meats. In fact, they estimate that if everyone did so, half of all colorectal cancers could be prevented.

Learn more from Goshen Health oncologist Dr. Laura Morris about how your diet influences your overall health. 

Posted: 12/14/2015 by Goshen Health
Filed under: cancer, Cancer Care, processed meat

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