On Monday the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) will release their evaluation of the cancer risk associated with red and processed meat. The findings, leaked to the press, will reportedly support AICR’s analysis of the research on this issue and our recommendation to limit red med meat and avoid processed meat.
updated statement: Diet–Cancer Experts Welcome WHO Report on Meat and Cancer
Here at AICR we haven’t had a chance to read the full IARC report yet. When we do, we’ll update this blog post with our reaction.
In the meantime, here is what we know for certain:
- Research shows a clear and convincing link between diets high in red meat and risk for colorectal cancer.
- Research shows a clear and convincing link between even small amounts of hot dogs, bacon and other processed meats to colorectal cancer.
The IARC report may be new, but the evidence showing a link between red meats and colorectal cancer is not news. For years we have been recommending that Americans reduce the amount of red meat (beef, pork, lamb) in their diets and avoid processed meats like bacon, sausage, hot dogs and cold cuts. This advice grows out of our report, Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective and our recent report on colorectal cancer, This report, part of the Continuous Update Project, analyzed the global scientific research into the link between diet, physical activity, weight and cancer.
There are several potential reasons that diets high in red and processed meat may be a cause colorectal cancer. Red meat contains a compound that promotes the formation of potentially carcinogenic N-nitroso compounds. In addition, when red meat is cooked at high temperatures it leads to the formation of compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). In lab studies, these compounds cause changes in the DNA that may lead to cancer.
Many processed red meats also contain nitrites and nitrates added as preservatives, which also can form potentially carcinogenic compounds .
- The evidence evaluated by AICR suggests that a modest amount of red meat in the diet does not raise colorectal cancer risk.
Our analysis found that eating more than 18 ounces of cooked red meat per week increases the risk of colorectal cancer. However, even eating small amounts of processed meat regularly increases risk. This is why AICR recommends limiting red meat, but avoiding processed meat.
- The meat industry will attempt to attack the science.
Representatives of the American Meat Institute, the US Beef Check-Off, and the US Pork Producers sat in as observers on the new IARC report and they have consistently disputed our recommendations. We’re interested to see what they will say about IARC’s findings.
Expect an updated statement on Monday. In the meantime, we look forward to welcoming yet another rigorous examination of the evidence that adds to the wealth of data showing that diets high in red and processed meat pose a clear and considerable health risk for the public.