The World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer says that there is sufficient evidence to rank processed meats, such as bacon and sausages, as group 1 carcinogens because of a causal link with bowel cancer.
It places red meat in group 2A as “probably carcinogenic to humans”, noting that it is also linked to pancreatic and prostate cancer. The IARC says that each 50-gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increased the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%.
Kurt Straif, head of the IARC monographs programme, said that “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. In view of the large number of people who consume processed meat, the global impact on cancer incidence is of public health importance.”
The IARC based its findings on more than 800 studies that investigated associations of more than a dozen types of cancer with the consumption of red or processed meat “in many countries and populations with diverse diets”.
Commenting on the findings, Casey Dunlop, a health information officer at Cancer Research UK, said that “our advice on diet stays the same: eat plenty of fibre, fruit and vegetables; cut back on red and processed meat and salt and limit your alcohol intake. It might sound boring but it’s true – healthy living is all about moderation. Except for smoking: that’s always bad for you”.