WHO: Processed meat, red meat cause cancer

The consumption of processed meat increases a person’s risk for cancer at a level comparable to smoking, according to a report issued today by WHO’s International Agency for Research On Cancer.

Consumption of red meat also is “probably carcinogenic” to humans, the panel concluded.

”These findings further support current public health recommendations to limit intake of meat,” Christopher Wild, PhD, director of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), said in a press release. “At the same time, red meat has nutritional value. Therefore, 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.”

The panel — comprised of 22 experts from 10 countries — gave the consumption of processed meat a Group 1 classification, meaning it is carcinogenic to humans.

The classification — which places processed meat in the same category as other known carcinogens such as cigarettes and asbestos — is based on “sufficient evidence” in humans that the consumption of processed meat causes colorectal cancer. The experts determined a person’s risk for colorectal cancer increases by 18% for each 50 g portion of processed meat consumed each day.

“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,” Kurt Straif, MD, MPH, PhD, senior scientist in the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s Unit of Carcinogen Identification and Evaluation, said in the press release. “In view of the large number of people who consume processed meat, the global impact on cancer incidence is of public health importance.”

The panel gave the consumption of red meat a Group 2A classification, meaning it is “probably carcinogenic” to humans.

The group based that decision on “limited evidence” that consumption of red meat causes cancer in humans, as well as “strong” mechanistic evidence that supports red meat’s carcinogenic effect. The available evidence that suggests a link between red meat and malignancy is primarily related to colorectal cancer; however, experts also pointed to associations with prostate cancer and pancreatic cancer.

The panel analyzed more than 800 studies that assessed the potential link between consumption of red or processed meat with several types of cancer. The studies included participants from many countries and populations with diverse dietary habits.

Large prospective cohort studies conducted in the past 2 decades provided the strongest evidence, according to the panel.

Disclosure: HemOnc Today was unable to confirm relevant financial disclosures at the time of publication.

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