WHO Categorises Processed Meat As Carcinogen

Processed meat (including bacon and sausages) has been categorised in the same group as asbestos, alcohol, arsenic and tobacco, according to the World Health Organisation – they are all known as group 1 carcinogens.

Red-Meat

Processed meat features in the list of group 1 carcinogens, as per the report of International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the WHO, published in the journal Lancet Oncology, after a link has been drawn between the foods and bowel cancer.

Red meat has been placed in group 2A and is tagged as “probably carcinogenic to humans”; IARC reports that it has been associated with pancreatic and prostate cancer. Furthermore, the report says that every 50 gram of processed meat consumed on a daily basis increases the likelihood of developing 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,” said 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.”

Cancer Research UK agrees with the report of IARC.

“Cancer Research UK supports IARC’s decision that there’s strong enough evidence to classify processed meat as a cause of cancer, and red meat as a probable cause of cancer,” says Prof Tim Key, Cancer Research UK’s epidemiologist at the University of Oxford.

“We’ve known for some time about the probable link between red and processed meat and bowel cancer, which is backed by substantial evidence.

“This decision doesn’t mean you need to stop eating any red and processed meat. But if you eat lots of it you may want to think about cutting down. You could try having fish for your dinner rather than sausages, or choosing to have a bean salad for lunch over a BLT.”

Comparing meat to cigarettes has left some displeased though.

“What we do know is that avoiding red meat in the diet is not a protective strategy against cancer,” said a member of the Meat Advisory Panel, Robert Pickard, who is also emeritus professor of neurobiology at the University of Cardiff.

“The top priorities for cancer prevention remain smoking cessation, maintenance of normal body weight and avoidance of high alcohol intakes.”

“We’ve known for some time about the probable link between red and processed meat and bowel cancer, which is backed by substantial evidence.

“This decision doesn’t mean you need to stop eating any red and processed meat. But if you eat lots of it you may want to think about cutting down. You could try having fish for your dinner rather than sausages, or choosing to have a bean salad for lunch over a BLT.”

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