Sizzling Sausages Cause Colon Cancer?

The old adage “You are what you eat”, may ring true in the latest health news: Research by the World Health Organization (WHO), published in The Lancet Oncology journal indicates that processed meats and red meat can cause colon (colorectal or bowel) cancer.

Cancer causing foods?cancer causing foods, meat, colon cancer

Cold cut/ cured meat, sausages and hot dogs are under fire: The WHO’s international Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) associated the (large) consumption of processed meats with colon cancer - colon cancer is the second most common cancer in women, and the third in men. In order for an effective outcome, prevention and early detection is key; colon cancer treatment involves the use of chemotherapy and/ or radiation and surgery. The WHO reports that around 54% of colon cancer cases occur in more developed countries. 

IARC’s 22 participating scientists combined a study of decades of research that featured over 800 reports with several types of cancer in populations with varied diets. The WHO defined processed meat as products with artificially enhanced flavor or preservatives, such as hot dogs, sausages, bacon including smoked, cured or salted meats; while red meats include beef, mutton, lamb, pork and more.

A link between meat and cancer

The latest news to make waves and may come as quite a shock for meat-lovers, as the IARC’S study concludes consuming a daily portion of 50g (1.8 ounces) of processed meat increases the risk of developing colon cancer by 18%. Most countries eat large quantities of meat, such as China (pork) and Argentina (beef), likewise Americans, who eat on average 21.7g of pork on a daily basis alone – a 50g portion is the equivalent of a hot dog or two slices of bacon.

In Addition, eating red meat has also been associated with pancreatic cancer and prostate cancer. There are possible links between processed meat and gastric (stomach) cancer, which are yet to be proven. However, IARC’s classification of carcinogenic substances places red meat in group 2A (“Probably carcinogenic to humans”), added to glyphosate - an active ingredient in weedkiller.

Sizzling Sausages Cause Colon Cancer?




Conflicting evidence

Some scientists argue that this report may not add huge weight to the (already) long-standing health recommendations to reduce daily consumption of processed meat, while organizations like Cancer Research UK adds that a bacon sandwich on occasion is acceptable and that diet is all about moderation. While the American Cancer Society recommends limiting meat products (since 2002) and opting for fish or meat cooked at a low temperature. The IARC has yet to compare the risk level with other substances, such as smoking. Other health officials say the study is flawed saying the effect of meat on the risk of colon cancer is incomparable to the effect of tobacco smoke on the risk of lung cancer by 20-fold.

Eat meat in moderation

While a balanced diet of meat provides an excellent source of protein, iron, zinc and vitamin B12, on the other hand large quantities and over a long period may be harmful to one’s health. Processed meats are exposed to nitrates and nitrites, which when converted in the body are carcinogenic; cooking methods at high-temperatures also release chemicals suspected to cause cancer. It has been known for years that saturated fats and sodium found in meat products have a negative effect on the heart, it is for this reason that doctors advise against a diet high in red meat and processed meat.

Dr. Straif of IARC points out, "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." He does however emphasize that due to the large quantities of meat populations consume, the worldwide impact on cancer incidence is of great importance.

Furthermore, on a global scale, according to IARC, apart from preventable cancer risk factors, such as tobacco smoking, which has caused around 1 million deaths, 34,000 deaths attributed to a (high) processed meat diet.

Herzliya Medical Center (HMC) is renowned for its oncology department – effectively treating various cancers, including colon (colorectal/ bowel) cancer, stomach (gastric) cancer, pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer and more. Prevention and early detection in cancer treatment is key to an effective outcome, HMC provides early screening to patients. Consult us if you experience any unusual symptoms or are concerned about your health.

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