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WHO report links processed meat with cancer

Processed meats classified as “carcinogenic to humans,” while red meat classified as “probably carcinogenic to humans” by World Health Organization


The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer agency of the World Health Organization, has declared that eating processed meat can cause cancer.

In a report released Oct. 26, the IARC classified processed meat – such as hot dogs, sausages, ham and bacon – as “carcinogenic to humans” (Group 1), based on what it has deemed sufficient evidence in humans that the consumption of processed meat causes colorectal cancer.

The IARC also 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. According to the IARC, this association was observed mainly for colorectal cancer, but associations were also seen for pancreatic cancer and prostate cancer.

The experts concluded that 50 g of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 per cent.

“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 Kurt Straif, Head of the IARC Monographs Programme.

In making these conclusions, 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.

”These findings further support current public health recommendations to limit intake of meat,” says Christopher Wild, director of IARC. “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.”


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