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IARC Report:
The Carcinogenic Effects of
Processed & Red Meat

26 October 2015

IARC Monographs evaluate:
consumption of red meat
and processed meat

Lyon, France, 26 October 2015
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer agency of the World Health Organization, has evaluated the carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat and processed meat.
Red meat
After thoroughly reviewing the accumulated scientific literature, a Working Group of 22 experts from 10 countries convened by the IARC Monographs Programme classified the consumption of red meat as probably carcinogenic to humans (Group 2A), based on limited evidence that the consumption of red meat causes cancer in humans and strong mechanistic evidence supporting a carcinogenic effect.
This association was observed mainly for colorectal cancer, but associations were also seen for pancreatic cancer and prostate cancer.
Processed meat
Processed meat was classified as carcinogenic to humans (Group 1), based on sufficient evidence in humans that the consumption of processed meat causes colorectal cancer.
Meat consumption and its effects
The consumption of meat varies greatly between countries, with from a few percent up to 100% of people eating red meat, depending on the country, and somewhat lower proportions eating processed meat.
The experts concluded that each 50 gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%.
“For an individual, the risk of developing colorectal cancer because of their consumption of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed,” says Dr Kurt Straif, Head of the IARC Monographs Programme.
“In view of the large number of people who consume processed meat, the global impact on cancer incidence is of public health importance.”
The IARC Working Group considered more than 800 studies that investigated associations of more than a dozen types of cancer with the consumption of red meat or processed meat in many countries and populations with diverse diets.
The most influential evidence came from large prospective cohort studies conducted over the past 20 years.
Public health
”These findings further support current public health recommendations to limit intake of meat,” says Dr Christopher Wild, Director of IARC.
“At the same time, red meat has nutritional value. Therefore, these results are important in enabling governments and international regulatory agencies to conduct risk assessments, in order to balance the risks and benefits of eating red meat and processed meat and to provide the best possible dietary recommendations.”
IARC Monographs evaluate consumption of red meat and processed meat
Note to the Editor:
Red meat
refers to all types of mammalian muscle meat, such as beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse, and goat.
Processed meat
refers to meat that has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other processes to enhance flavour or improve preservation.
Most processed meats contain pork or beef, but processed meats may also contain other red meats, poultry, offal, or meat by-products such as blood.
Examples of processed meat include hot dogs (frankfurters), ham, sausages, corned beef, and biltong or beef jerky as well as canned meat and meat-based preparations and sauces.
A summary of the final evaluations is available online in The Lancet Oncology, and the detailed assessments will be published as Volume 114 of the IARC Monographs.
Read the IARC Monographs Q&A
Read the IARC Monographs Q&A
on the carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat and processed meat.
For more information,
please contact Véronique Terrasse, Communications Group, at +33 (0)4 72 73 83 66 or terrassev@iarc.fr or Dr Nicolas Gaudin, IARC Communications, at com@iarc.fr
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)
is part of the World Health Organization.
Its mission is to coordinate and conduct research on the causes of human cancer, the mechanisms of carcinogenesis, and to develop scientific strategies for cancer control.
The Agency is involved in both epidemiological and laboratory research and disseminates scientific information through publications, meetings, courses, and fellowships.

A W.H.O. report on Monday warned about a cancer risk linked with eating processed meats. CreditÁngel Franco/The New York Times
On Monday the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, published an analysis linking colorectal cancer to the consumption of processed meats and red meat. Here are answers to a few questions about the report.

How might meats be linked to colorectal cancer?
Processed meats like hot dogs and sausages have been salted, cured or smoked to enhance flavor and improve preservation. Scientists have long worried that this processing leads to the formation of potentially carcinogenic chemicals like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in these products.

The concern with red meats — beef, pork and lamb — has more to do with the cooking, not the processing. Grilling, barbecuing and pan-frying meat creates potential carcinogens, including heterocyclic aromatic amines.

The report finds a link between consumption of processed meats and colorectal cancer (and perhaps other cancers), but also acknowledged that the link between red meat and cancer has not been proved.

“Eating red meat has not yet been established as a cause of cancer,” the I.A.R.C. said in a handout accompanying its report.

Is there a safer way to cook meat?
There is just not enough data to know for sure whether broiling or boiling meats might lower cancer risk.

  1. What exactly is the risk?

    Small, compared with smoking or alcohol consumption. Colorectal cancer is the third most common non-skin cancer in the United States, and will bediagnosed in an estimated 133,000 patients this year, a wide majority of them over age 50. The lifetime risk is about 5 percent.

    W.H.O. estimated that 50 grams daily of processed meat or 100 grams daily of red meat might increase the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent and 17percent, in that order, over the absolute risk — if indeed red meat were related to cancer at all, which the report also acknowledged is not known.

    Most of the data reviewed by the W.H.O. are drawn from population studies, and many experts question whether these risk estimates can be applied to individuals who may have other risks for colorectal cancer.

  2. Is there any way to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer?

    There are several ways. People who eat diets rich in fruits, vegetables and fiber are at lower risk, as are those who exercise. Obesity, smoking and heavy alcohol consumption increase the risk of colorectal cancer. The incidence has been declining for 20 years, in part because of colonoscopy screenings. Daily low-dose aspirin may reduce the risk, but it has side effects and most experts do not recommend its use in people at average risk who do not also have cardiovascular disease.

To view the original of this article CLICK HERE

For the NHS View:

Processed meat ’causes cancer’ warns WHO report

Tuesday October 27 2015

Current UK recommendations are to eat no more than 70g of processed meat a dayProcessed meats have been linked to bowel cancer

What is the issue?

“Processed meat ranks alongside smoking as major cause of cancer, World Health Organisation [WHO] says,” The Daily Telegraph reports. It has been ranked as a group one carcinogen – the same ranking as cigarettes, alcohol and asbestos.

The WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) released a report evaluating the link between the consumption of red and processed meat and cancer. A question and answer factsheet was also published.

The report explained red meat refers to unprocessed meat such as beef, veal, pork and lamb, while processed meat has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other processes.

The largest body of evidence is for the link with colorectal (bowel) cancer

How was the report received by the media?

The quality of the UK media’s reporting was mixed. Some sources fell into the trap of assuming that since processed meat had been ranked as a group one carcinogen, it meant it was as dangerous as other substances in the group. This led to headlines such as the Daily Express’, “Processed meat is as bad as smoking”, which is simply untrue.

While any substance ranked as a group one carcinogen is known to cause cancer, this doesn’t meant the risk of cancer is the same for all substances. A bacon sandwich is not as dangerous as being exposed to weapons grade plutonium, and smoking a pack of 20 cigarettes a day is far deadlier than eating a ham roll.

The Daily Mail and The Guardian did make an effort to put the risk of eating processed meat into context. Both papers, via their respective websites, provided a link to an extremely useful infographic produced by Cancer Research UK.

A key statistic provided by the infographic is that if everyone stopped smoking, there would be 64,500 fewer cases of cancer a year in the UK, compared with 8,800 fewer cases if everyone stopped eating processed or red meat.  

What evidence is the advice based on?

The link between red and processed meat and cancer is not new, and there has been a large body of research evidence to suggest bowel cancer is more common when these food items are consumed. According to Cancer Research UK, 21% of bowel cancers and 3% of all cancers are caused by red meat.

The WHO Working Group assessed more than 800 observational studies that investigated the association between cancer and the consumption of red meat across a range of countries, ethnicities and diets.

Data from the studies was analysed to investigate the link. Studies that were better quality, where the observations were prospective – that is, diet was assessed before looking at cancer development – were considered more reliable, and their findings were given greater weight.

The researchers also preferentially looked for studies with larger sample sizes, that had used validated questionnaires, and had controlled for potential health and lifestyle confounders that may be influencing the link. However, it was not possible to avoid all sources of bias and confounding, particularly for red meat, where data availability was limited.  

What are the risks?

Positive links between colorectal cancer and processed meat were found in 12 of 18 cohort studies and six of nine case-control studiesexamining the meat.

Looking at a review that had pooled the results of 10 cohort studies, the Working Group found an increase of 100g of red meat a day increased the risk of colorectal cancer by 17% (95% confidence interval [CI] 1.05 to 1.31), and 50g of processed meat a day increased the risk by 18% (95% CI 1.10 to 1.28).

There was also data available linking red meat consumption withpancreatic cancer and prostate cancer, and processed meat withstomach cancer.

As a result of these findings, the WHO Working Group has classified processed meat as “carcinogenic to humans” on the basis of sufficient evidence to draw a link with colorectal cancer and an association with stomach cancer.

There was a limited amount of evidence available when assessing red meat, and this was therefore classified as “probably carcinogenic to humans”. 

How much red meat is it safe to eat?

The advice from the WHO Working Group supports current public health recommendations to limit intake of red and processed meat.

If you currently eat more than 90g (cooked weight) of red and processed meat a day, the Department of Health advises you cut down to 70g.

Ninety grams is equivalent to around three thinly cut slices of beef, lamb or pork, where each slice is about the size of half a piece of sliced bread. A cooked breakfast containing two typical British sausages and two rashers of bacon is equivalent to 130g.

It is unnecessary to cut red meat out all together as it is a good source of nutrients, including protein, iron, zinc and vitamin B12.

If you currently eat a large amount of red and processed meats, it might be good for you to cut down. Some ways to do this are:

  • eating smaller portions of meat
  • switching to chicken or fish
  • keeping a few days a week red meat-free
  • add beans or pulses such as kidney beans, chickpeas and lentils to replace some of the meat in dishes
  • instead of bacon, chorizo or salami, use chicken or vegetarian sausages

Analysis by Bazian. Edited by NHS Choices. Follow NHS Choices on Twitter. Join the Healthy Evidence forum.

Analysis by Bazian

Edited by NHS Choices

To view the original of this analysis CLICK HERE

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