The World Health Organization has released a new report stating that eating processed meats such as bacon, hot dogs and ham can significantly raise your risk of colorectal cancer.
The report was based on a review of over 800 studies examining connections between meat consumption and cancer. The researchers found that consuming even a rather small amount of processed meat on a daily basis can have a significant effect, stating that a daily consumption of 50 grams of processed meat (equivalent to about two slices of ham) increases the risk of colon cancer by 18 percent. According to the WHO, “processed meat refers to meat that has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other processes to enhance flavor or improve preservation,” and includes hot dogs, bacon, hams, sausages, corned beef, beef jerky and canned meats.
The strongest association between processed meat consumption and increased cancer risk was seen for colorectal cancers, but associations were also observed for pancreatic and prostate cancers.
Processed meats have now been classified as a Group 1 cancer-causing candidate, which puts them in the company of cigarettes and asbestos as substances deemed “carcinogenic to humans.” This does not, however, mean they’re just as dangerous; it simply means the findings of scientific research are similarly strong.
The study also discovered that diets high in red meat are linked to an increased risk of colorectal cancer. Red meats are now classified as Group 2A cancer-causing candidates to reflect these findings, meaning they are “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
Although this is a new report and the most definitive statement yet on the potential carcinogenic properties of processed meats, the American Institute for Cancer Research released a statement saying they’re not surprised by the findings.
“The [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,” the organization said in its statement.
The AICR believes a small-amount of red meat in your diet might be OK and offers a guideline of consuming under 18 ounces a week. However, they believe that regularly consuming just a small amount of processed meat is enough to raise your risk of colorectal cancer. “This is why the AICR recommends limiting red meat, but avoiding processed meat,” the organization said in its statement.
The meat industry has already raised objections to the report, but the AICR’s recommendation to limit red meat consumption and all but eliminate processed meats is probably a sound one until the report is further analyzed. Follow along with any updates on this developing story over at the WHO’s twitter account.