Eating hot dogs, ham and other processed meat can cause colorectal cancer, and eating red meat “probably” can cause cancer, the World Health Organization’s cancer agency reported Monday.
Kurt Straif of the International Agency for Cancer Research said the risk of developing colorectal cancer from eating processed meat remains small but rises with the amount consumed. Consuming red meat was linked to colorectal, pancreatic and prostate cancer, but the link was not as strong, the IARC report said.
“In view of the large number of people who consume processed meat, the global impact on cancer incidence is of public health importance,” Straif said.
The IARC report labeled processed meat a carcinogen — cigarettes are similarly labeled — and said red meat is “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
The North American Meat Institute scoffed at the report, saying it ignored “numerous” studies showing no link between meat and cancer.
“Red and processed meat are among 940 agents reviewed by IARC and found to pose some level of theoretical ‘hazard,” institute spokeswoman Betsy Booren said. “Only one substance, a chemical in yoga pants, has been declared by IARC not to cause cancer.”
Processed meat was defined as meat transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking “or other processes to enhance flavor or improve preservation.” The most common processed meats consumed in the U.S. include hot dogs, sausages, bacon, ham, canned meat and beef jerky.
The IARC said it considered more than 800 studies that investigated possible links between a dozen types of cancer with the consumption of red meat or processed meat in many countries and populations with diverse diets.
The experts concluded that each 50 gram portion — about 1.75 ounce, or about two strips of bacon — of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%, the IARC said
IARC director Christopher Wild said the findings support current public health recommendations to limit intake of meat but stressed that red meat has nutritional value. He said governments and international regulatory agencies must balance the risks and benefits of eating red meat and processed meat “to provide the best possible dietary recommendations.”