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Processed meat classified as carcinogenic to humans

Processed meat classified as carcinogenic to humansThe International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer agency of the World Health Organization, has evaluated the carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat and processed meat.

Red Meat

After thoroughly reviewing the accumulated scientific literature, a Working Group of 22 experts from 10 countries convened by the IARC Monographs Programme classified the consumption of red meat as probably carcinogenic to humans (Group 2A), based on limited evidence that the consumption of red meat causes cancer in humans and strong mechanistic evidence supporting a carcinogenic effect.

This association was observed mainly for colorectal cancer, but associations were also seen for pancreatic cancer and prostate cancer.

Processed Meat

Processed meat was classified as carcinogenic to humans (Group 1), based on sufficient evidence in humans that the consumption of processed meat causes colorectal cancer.

Meat and Cancer graphic - Cancer Research UK

Processed meat has been classified as a ‘definite’ cause of cancer (or Group 1 carcinogen) – the same group that includes smoking and alcohol. And red meat is a ‘probable’ cause of cancer (or a Group 2a carcinogen) – the same group as shift work. While this may sound alarming, it’s important to remember that these groups show how confident IARC is that red and processed meat cause cancer, not how much cancer they cause. Credit: Cancer Research UK

Meat Consumption And Its Effects

The consumption of meat varies greatly between countries, with from a few percent up to 100% of people eating red meat, depending on the country, and somewhat lower proportions eating processed meat.

The experts concluded that each 50 gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%.

Dr Kurt Straif, Head of the IARC Monographs Programme

Dr Kurt Straif

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,” says Dr Kurt Straif, Head of the IARC Monographs Programme. “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 Working Group considered more than 800 studies that investigated associations of more than a dozen types of cancer with the consumption of red meat or processed meat in many countries and populations with diverse diets. The most influential evidence came from large prospective cohort studies conducted over the past 20 years.

Public health

Dr Christopher P. Wild, IARC Director

Dr Christopher P. Wild

These findings further support current public health recommendations to limit intake of meat. 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.

Dr Christopher Wild, Director of IARC.

Cancer Research UK said while the news is not exactly new, it does add a new layer of weight to links between consumption of red meat and cancer. The group claims meat is responsible for 21 per cent of bowel cancers and 3 per cent of all cancers. This is compared to smoking which causes 86 per cent of lung cancers and 19 per cent of all cancers.


 

IARC PRESS RELEASE N° 240 Lyon, France, 26 October 2015

WHO-IARC LogoThe International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) is part of the World Health Organization. Its mission is to coordinate and conduct research on the causes of human cancer, the mechanisms of carcinogenesis, and to develop scientific strategies for cancer control. The Agency is involved in both epidemiological and laboratory research and disseminates scientific information through publications, meetings, courses, and fellowships.

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