LYON, France, October 27, 2015 (ENS) – Reducing consumption of red meat and processed meats can reduce the risk of colorectal, pancreatic and prostate cancers, finds a new report from the World Health Organization’s cancer agency.
In a report released on Tuesday, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, IARC, a Working Group of 22 experts from 10 countries evaluated the carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat and processed meat based on a review of the scientific literature.
The IARC Working Group classified the consumption of processed meat as carcinogenic to humans (Group 1), based on “sufficient evidence in humans that the consumption of processed meat causes colorectal cancer.”
The Working Group classified 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.”
The experts concluded that each 50 gram (1.76 ounce) portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent.
This association was observed mainly for colorectal cancer, but associations were also seen for pancreatic cancer and prostate cancer, the Working Group said.
Many studies show the links, both in populations of people and in tests that show how eating these foods can cause cancer, IARC said in its report, published in “The Lancet” medical journal.
Dr. Christopher Wild, who directs IARC, said in a statement, “These findings further support current public health recommendations to limit intake of meat.”
“At the same time, red meat has nutritional value,” said Dr. Wild. “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.”
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 flavor 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 ham, sausages, corned beef, hot dogs or frankfurters, and biltong or beef jerky as well as canned meat and meat-based preparations and sauces.
The consumption of meat varies greatly between countries, with from a few percent up to 100 percent of people eating red meat, depending on the country, and somewhat lower proportions eating processed meat.
“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,” said Dr. Kurt Straif, who heads the IARC Monographs Programme that produced this report.
“In view of the large number of people who consume processed meat, the global impact on cancer incidence is of public health importance,” said Dr. Straif.
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.