Processed Meats are Causing Cancer- Myth and Reality

Words of Alarm- Bacon and Cancer

The World Health Organization (WHO) put two words together that caused some alarm and confusion. They put the words bacon and cancer together when they classified processed meat as a group 1 carcinogen. This would lead people to believe that eating bacon and smoking cigarettes can have the same harmful effects. Is this what they meant to say?

No. They both can cause cancer this much of the report was true, but it left out a significant piece of information, and that is in what quantities? WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer shows which food, pesticide, smokable plant, drink or whatever else is deemed as a carcinogen. They left out the part on how much of each product would have to be consumed for it to become a risk of getting cancer. Processed meat and tobacco are both linked to certain types of cancer, but the risk of lung cancer from smoking is over 2,000 percent greater whereas, eating two slices of bacon a day only increases the risk of colorectal cancer by just a little more than 15 percent.

Is Red Meat as Dangerous as Smoking?

Red meat contains an iron-based chemical known as, heme. When heme gets to the digestive tract, it breaks down into carcinogen N-nitroso compounds. The processed meat goes a bit further as nitrates and nitrites are used in the curing process to preserve it which also turns into N-nitroso compounds. Meat is usually cooked at high temperatures when grilled or fried, and this adds yet more cancer causing compounds. Releasing this information will have people cut down their consumption of bacon, salami, ham, and hot dogs so their risk of cancer will be reduced by a small amount, however; it is not the same reduction as quitting smoking. Having processed meat ranked beside tobacco is quite misleading and misrepresents the conclusions.

Misleading Grouping of Carcinogenic

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) consists of a group of international experts who study evidence on how likely it is for particular products to cause cancer. When they assess evidence on certain cancer risks, they’ll assign that product to one of several different groups. The groups are broke down by how certain they are the product will cause cancer in people. Their groups are:

* Group 1- There is no question about the products in this group- they will cause cancer.

* Group 2A- Products in this group probably will cause cancer.

* Group 2B- Products in this group possibly will cause cancer.

* Group 3- Products in this group are not classifiable as a cause for cancer.

* Group 4- Products in this group probably will not cause cancer.

In October 2015, the IARC released a statement reading processed meat was a definite cause for cancer, and red meat was a probable cause. This was not actually news at the time as evidence had been building for a long time and was supported by careful research already conducted. As alarming as that story was at the time, what had to be understood was how the IARC made those conclusions. Processed meat has been listed by the IARC as a definite cause of cancer and placed as a carcinogen in Group 1 the same as smoking and alcohol. Red meat has been listed as a probable cause for cancer by the agency and has been placed as a carcinogen in Group 2 the same as shift work. These groupings were done as the IARC is confident they cause cancer, but it does not tell how much or how high the risk is.

What Is the Fact About Meat and Cancer?

There is a lot of evidence that bowel cancer is common in people who consume mostly red and processed meats. The most convincing proof of the link is in a 2011 analysis by the WCRF, who combined previous studies to get a clear picture of the connection between the two. They were able to group data by who ate the most red and processed meat and who didn’t. It resulted in finding processed meat and red meat are not equally as harmful. The processed meat was a much higher risk for bowel cancer than red meat.

Final Results Show Little Harm in Red or Processed Meats

The Cancer Research UK and The University of Oxford conclude all this information does not mean a person should stop eating red or processed meats. They do recommend if your diet contains a lot of either, you should cut down on amounts. A healthy diet is all about moderation and eating bacon every once in a while is not going to harm you. People should limit their consumption and include rich fiber in their diets from fruits and vegetables. The Meat Advisory Panel says not to avoid red meat entirely as it is not a protective strategy against cancer. They say your focus should be on stopping smoking, alcohol consumption, and body weight.