World Health Organisation Adds Processed Meats to Cancer Risk Factor List

October 26th, 2015
World Health Organisation Adds Processed Meats to Cancer Risk Factor List

The World Health Organisation has added processed meats to the list of carcinogens, cancer-causing substances. It joins alcohol, cigarettes and asbestos.

According to a report conducted for the WHO, consuming 50 grams of processed meats per day, which equates to less than 2 rashers of bacon, increases the risk of developing cancer. Experts suggest that eating ham, bacon and sausages on a regular basis can increase the risk of bowel cancer by 18 percent. Fresh red meat was described by the WHO as ‘a probable carcinogen’, which is the next ranking down.

The announcement comes after scientists from ten countries met to discuss the findings of research into the effects of consuming processed meats. The findings have been welcomed by leading cancer charities and representatives have urged members of the public to cut back on the amount of processed meat they eat.

Experts were keen to point out that the quality of the meat did not affect the risk and choosing expensive sausages, for example, would not decrease cancer risk. It was also noted that although processed meats have been classified as carcinogens by the WHO, this does not mean that they pose the same level of risk. The rating system relates to the strength of evidence to suggest a link between the risk factor and cancer, rather than the level of risk they pose.

Experts found that the main link was established between processed meat and bowel cancer. However, there were also links with pancreatic and prostate cancer.

Dr Kurt Straif from the International Agency for Research on Cancer explained that the risk of developing bowel cancer as a result of consuming processed meat was low. However, the risk increases in line with consumption and those who eat a lot of processed meat do have a higher risk of developing this form of cancer.

Previous studies have connected red meat consumption with an elevated risk of cancer, but this is the strongest indication yet. Cancer Research UK’s Professor Tim Key said that the evidence was “strong” but people did not need to suddenly panic and cut out meat from their diet. Instead, swapping some portions of red meat for poultry or fish would be beneficial.

New guidelines from the WHO suggest that a daily intake of 50 grams of processed red meat increases bowel cancer risk by 18 percent. An average fry-up, which contains 3 rashers of bacon and 2 sausages, contains 150 grams.

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