Q&A Cancer Risks of Processed Meat- Bacon, Sausages,Ham and Red Meat

Health authorities have recommended that people reduce the amount of processed meat and red meat to reduce the risk of bowel cancer. This includes bacon, salami, ham, sausages and similar processed red meat. A new research study in Sweden has found an association between pancreatic cancel and processed meat. Eating an additional 50g of processed meat, about one sausage, every day increased the risk by 19% and eating an extra 100g per day increased the risk by 38%. Processed meat consumption has also been linked with ovarian cancer.

This study supports the previous recommendation for reducing bowel cancer risk by not exceeding 70g of processed meat a day, which is equal to about three rashers of bacon, three slices of ham or salami or two sausages. Many authorities have suggested that processed meats should be eliminated completely because of the risks and that red meat consumption should also be restricted. Others have warned that reducing red meat consumption would put people at risk of iron deficiencies. However there are many other dietary sources of iron (see Iron Rich Foods for Natural Treatment of Iron Deficiencies)

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Various types of processed meats

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Sausages and many small good products contain processed meat which can be a cancer risk

The new study, published in the British Journal of Cancer, reviewed data from almost 7,000 patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer is deadly, and Steve Jobs (SEO Apple computer company) recently died from it. Pancreatic cancel has a 5-year relative survival of about 5.5%, which is one of the worst types of cancer.

The analysis of previous studies showed that eating and extra 50 g per day or processed meat, which is about one serving, was correlated with an increased risk of pancreatic cancer or 19%. Red meat consumption was associated with increased pancreatic cancer risk in men (who eat more red meats), but not for women and men combined. There were limitation in the study because the exact amount of red and processed meat consumed was not measured exactly.

Similarly smoking and obesity are significant risk actors for pancreatic cancel and although addressed in the studies, make have still influenced the results. Additional research is required to confirm the findings.

The study concluded that there was a significant positive association between processed meat consumption and the risk of pancreatic cancer. Red meat consumption was positively associated with cancer risk in men.

Cancer Research UK said the risk of developing pancreatic cancer in a lifetime was “comparatively small“ - one in 77 for men and one in 79 for women.

Sara Hiom, the charity's information director, said: "The jury is still out as to whether meat is a definite risk factor for pancreatic cancer and more large studies are needed to confirm this, but this new analysis suggests processed meat may be playing a role.‘ However, she pointed out that smoking was a much greater risk factor.

The World Cancer Research Fund WCRF) has advised people to completely avoid processed meat. Dr Rachel Thompson, the fund's deputy head of science, said: "We will be re-examining the factors behind pancreatic cancer later this year as part of our Continuous Update Project, which should tell us more about the relationship between cancer of the pancreas and processed meat. "There is strong evidence that being overweight or obese increases the risk of pancreatic cancer and this study may be an early indication of another factor behind the disease. "Regardless of this latest research, we have already established a strong link between eating red and processed meat and your chances of developing bowel cancer, which is why WCRF recommends limiting intake of red meat to 50og cooked weight a week and avoid processed meat altogether."

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Bowel Cancer Rates in various countries

The Department of Health in England advises people to cut back on processed meat and red and to reduce their risk of getting bowel cancer. It suggests that people consume no more than 70g a day - equivalent to two sausages or three rashers of bacon.

Bowel Cancer is the third most common cancer in the UK - with about 36,000 people diagnosed with bowel cancer each year, and it kills about 16,500 each year. Eating 100 to 120 g of red and processed meat a day - things like ham, salami and sausages - increases the risk of developing bowel cancer by about 25%.

Reducing red meat consumption could put people at greater risk of iron deficiency because most people get the iron they need from red meat which is a very good source of iron. However there are many other sources of iron ---link. Iron deficiency causes anaemia, which triggers to dizzy spells and tiredness. It can also affect brain development and cause behavioural problems.