Processed meat can cause bowel cancer with red meat also a likely cause of the disease, the World Health Organisation has said. There is “sufficient evidence” to link foods such as hot dogs, sausages and ham to cancer – and they are now being included in the same group as tobacco, diesel fumes and asbestos.
Dr Kurt Straif, from the International Agency for Research on Cancer, said: “For an individual, the risk of developing colorectal (bowel) cancer because of their consumption of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed.”
Red meat – including lamb, beef and pork – has been classified as a “probable” carcinogen, meaning it will be grouped with the glyphosate, active ingredient in many weedkillers. A study published in Lancet Oncology says “high-temperature cooking by pan-frying, grilling, or barbecuing generally produces the highest amounts” of carcinogenic chemicals.
There are also “positive associations” between the consumption of red meat and the development of pancreatic or advanced prostate cancer, as well as a link between processed meat and stomach cancer.
The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) has warned for a number of years that there is “strong evidence” that eating a lot of red meat can cause bowel cancer.
One possible reason is the organic pigment that gives red meat its colour, known as haem, may damage the lining of the bowel.
Meat which has been preserved by smoking, curing, salting or by adding preservatives can also lead to cancer-causing substances to form. The WCRF advises that people can reduce their bowel cancer risk by limiting their consumption of cooked red meat, such as beef, pork and lamb, to no more than 500g per week.
It also said people should curb their intake of processed meats such as ham, bacon and salami.
However, it has been pointed out the report finding does not mean the likelihood of getting bowel cancer from eating processed meat is comparable to the dangers of getting lung cancer from smoking.
The National Farmers’ Union has also warned against any new health advice being “polarising” and stressed the role of moderate amounts of red meat in a balanced diet.