Are Hot Dogs as Bad as Cigarettes?

Citing the conclusions of WCRF/AICR’s expert report and its recent updates, the pro-vegan advocacy group called the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) has launched a pitched campaign to raise awareness that regular consumption of hot dogs and other processed meats increase risk of colorectal cancer.

PCRM’s campaign is certainly arresting: A billboard ad that depicts hot dogs poking out of a cigarette pack has received a great deal of media attention.

Although AICR is not affiliated with PCRM or this campaign, the ad’s claims are based on WCRF/AICR’s Continuous Update Project (CUP), which built and continuously maintains the world’s largest research database on diet, physical activity, weight and cancer. A CUP report on colon cancer risk was released earlier this year, which confirmed the recommendations of an independent, international 21-member expert panel convened by WCRF/AICR.

Among those recommendations: Limit consumption of red meat to 18 ounces per week. But according to the expert panel: “The evidence on processed meat is even more clear-cut than that on red meat, and the data do not show any level of intake that can confidently be shown not to be associated with risk.” Processed meat includes hot dogs, bacon, sausage and lunchmeat.

Specifically, the CUP report concluded that, if a person eats 3.5 ounces (the size of one jumbo hot dog) of processed meat every day, their risk of colorectal cancer will be 36% higher than someone who eats no processed meat. If they eat 7.0 ounces of processed meat every day (49 ounces per week), their risk will be 72% higher, and so on.

That’s why we recommend saving processed meats for special occasions, such as a slice of ham at Easter or a hot dog at a ball game.

But let’s put that extra risk in context.

Take the example of a person eating one jumbo hot dog a day, every day. The fact that his risk for colorectal cancer is 36% higher than someone who doesn’t eat processed meat is a real cause for concern. But note that a 36% increase, while substantial, is not anywhere near the risk associated with cigarette smoking.

Smoking doesn’t simply increase risk for lung cancer, but multiplies a person’s risk by as much as 20 times, according to the CDC.

The increased risk associated with diets high in processed meat is much, much smaller than that. Even a person who eats 7 ounces, day in and day out, increases his risk by 72% — in other words, his risk doesn’t even double, let alone multiply by a factor of 20.

Here’s the bottom line:  An occasional hot dog will not cause colon cancer. What the evidence does show, however, is that making processed meats an everyday part of the diet, as many Americans do, poses clear and serious risks. That is why AICR continues to recommend avoiding processed meats.

And that’s also why finding convenient, healthful alternatives to hot dogs, bologna and other school lunch staples is so important.


Our Colorectal Cancer Report is Making International Headlines

Here in the States, the report of the AICR/WCRF Continuous Update Project (CUP) Expert on Colorectal Cancer, published yesterday, is in the news.

Here’s the WebMD story.

And here’s the Washington Post coverage.

It’s also been picked up by the Arizona Republic, New York Newsday, as several other newspapers throughout the US and Canada.

The American Meat Institute has released a statement expressing skepticism regarding the CUP Expert Panel’s consensus judgment that convincing evidence links red and processed meat to colorectal cancer, and urging “common sense.”

We at AICR stand by the CUP Expert Panel’s systematic and comprehensive evaluation of the evidence, but we do agree with the AMI on one point: The science on colorectal cancer does not support eliminating red meat from the diet. In fact, AICR recommends moderating intake of beef, pork and lamb to 18 ounces (cooked) per week — below this level, the increase in colorectal cancer  risk is very small; above this amount, the increase is enough to warrant concern. When it comes to processed meat, however, the situation is different. An increase in risk is seen with even relatively low consumption of processed meats like hot dogs, cold cuts and bacon — that’s why AICR recommends saving these foods for special occasions, like a hot dog at a ball game, or a slice of ham at Easter.

Our report has people around the globe talking. It made the cover of  the UK’s Daily Express, and was prominently featured in the other national UK papers as well. In Australia, it made the Sydney Morning-Herald and the Daily Sun. It even found its way into Russia’s Pravda.

There’s surely more coverage of this major report on colorectal cancer risk to come — let us know in the comments if you spot any in your local paper or on your local news.


Cautious Optimism for Survivorship Findings at AICR Afternoon Session

Moving more every day in any way is an important component to cancer survival.

At the Diet, Physical Activity and Survivorship session of AICR’s annual meeting, leading researchers pointed to the latest developments in lifestyle changes that might affect risk and death from major cancers. Catherine M. Alfano of the National Cancer Institute stressed the desire of cancer survivors, now numbering more than 12 million in the US, to “take control and actively participate” in beating cancer.

In breast cancer, physical activity has been studied most and found to have an impact on preventing recurrence and improving quality of life, as well as reducing negative side-effects of treatment.

Human trials looking at the impact of physical activity, diet and obesity on other kinds of cancers are sorely needed — as borne out by evidence presented by Jeffrey Meyerhardt, Ph.D, of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, who noted that studies linking physical activity with preventing colon cancer have shown clear results, but design of studies on survivors have varied.

Finding evidence on recurrence and mortality is more complex, Dr. Meyerhardt said, such as in looking into the various stages of colon cancer diagnosis, so these studies must be large and long-term, accumulating data over decades.

Prostate cancer and physical activity also has not been adequately studied, although presenter Edward Giovanucci, MD, of Harvard University said that being active before diagnosis is best, and that vigorous activity seemed to help survivors in the later stages of prostate cancer. He noted that brisk walking (3 miles an hour or more) for at least 7 hours per week did seem to have a positive effect in a small study of prostate cancer survivors. As for obesity, studies so far do not show an effect on survival from prostate cancer, but they may affect screening and treatment effectiveness, which may in turn affect survival of this cancer. A low-fat diet also seems to help survival rates.

The presenters emphasized the many health benefits of a physically active and prudent-diet lifestyle besides the likely cancer prevention and survival benefits, including lower risk for diabetes, heart disease and other chronic health problems — in other words it’s smart to make healthy changes while we are still healthy so that even after a cancer diagnosis, we are more likely to survive.