The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer agency of the World Health Organization, has evaluated the links between the consumption of red and processed meat, and cancer.
UNSW Professor Bernard Stewart, a scientific adviser to Cancer Council Australia, chaired the IARC working group that undertook the review of the evidence.
The group have classified the consumption of red meat as probably carcinogenic to humans (Group 2A). This association was observed mainly for colorectal cancer, but associations were also seen for pancreatic cancer and prostate cancer.
The group classified processed meat as carcinogenic to humans (Group 1), based on sufficient evidence in humans that the consumption of processed meat causes colorectal cancer.
It follows ground-breaking research released by Cancer Council Australia earlier this month that estimated more than 2600 bowel cancers diagnosed in Australia in 2010 were attributable to processed and red meat consumption.
“We looked at more than 1000 studies in order to provide clear, evidence-based information to health organisations and consumers,” Professor Stewart said. “The assessment should help make Australians more aware of the cancer risks associated with long-term excess red meat and processed meat consumption.”
Professor Stewart said the evidence did not support complete abstinence from red meat.
“We aren’t recommending a ban on bacon or taking the beef off the barbecue altogether,” he said. “But this latest advice should help make Australians more aware of the cancer risks associated with long-term excess red meat and processed meat consumption.”
Dr Trevor Lockett, Research Scientist at CSIRO’s Food & Nutrition Flagship, cautioned that “bowel cancer is a complex disease”.
“The devil, however, will be in the detail and we still await the publication of the full study. Key will be understanding the extent to which bowel cancer risk-reducing dietary components such as dietary fibre content of the diets and potential cofounding cancer risk factors such as overweight, obesity, alcohol consumption and sedentary lifestyle have been accommodated in the analyses.”
Exercise & Environment
Cancer Council Australia said that the study linking processed and red meats to cancer highlights the benefits of eating more fruit, vegetables and whole grains.
Chair of Cancer Council Australia’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Committee, Kathy Chapman, said red and processed meats were associated with around one in six bowel cancers diagnosed in Australia.
“It might be the high fat content, the charring in the cooking process or big meat eaters missing out on the protective benefits of plant-based foods – or a combination of these factors,” Ms Chapman said. “Whatever the mechanism, eating more fruit, vegetables and whole grains can help you to moderate your intake of processed and red meats and can also help to protect against cancer.”
Ms Chapman said Cancer Council supported the National Health and Medical Research Council’s recommendation that people ate no more than 65 to 100 grams of cooked red meat, three-to-four times a week. She said lean red meat was a source of iron, zinc, vitamin B12 and protein, but heavily processed meat was nutrient poor by comparison.
Ms Chapman also said people could also reduce their risk of bowel cancer by being more physically active, maintaining a healthy body weight and not smoking.
She said anyone aged 50 and over was urged to participate in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, which could detect bowel cancers or pre-cancerous polyps early, when they are much easier to treat.
Professor Mark L Wahlqvist a Visiting Professor at the National Health Research Institute (NHRI) in Taiwan and Zhejiang University in China and Emeritus Professor at Monash University, added another perspective – environmental.
“As important as the IARC findings are, we must now be more prudent, sparing and equitable in the use of meat and meat products to be consistent with the new UN Global Goals and the increasing need for food security with climate change “.
[hr] Source: Adapted from materials provided by CCA & SMC