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October 26, 2016 | 3 minute read

Diet-Cancer Experts Welcome WHO Report on Meat and Cancer

WASHINGTON, DC — The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), the nation’s leading cancer research organization focusing on the role of diet, weight and physical activity on cancer risk and survival, welcomes a new report from the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Today’s report supports AICR’s analysis of the research on red and processed meat’s role in increasing colorectal cancer risk.

The new IARC report places processed meats (hot dogs, bacon, ham, sausage, cold cuts) in Group 1: Carcinogenic to Humans, the same category as cigarettes. Red meat (beef, pork, lamb) is assigned to Group 2A: Probably Carcinogenic to Humans.

AICR strongly supports the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s report classifying red and processed meats as carcinogens, and we hope it will spread the message that what we eat plays a role in cancer risk.

“For years AICR has been recommending that individuals reduce the amount of beef, pork, lamb and other red meats in their diets and avoid processed meats like bacon, sausage and hot dogs,” AICR’s Vice-President of Research Susan Higginbotham RD, PhD said today. “This advice grows out of our expert reports and the Continuous Update Project, our ongoing review and analysis of the global scientific research on how diet, physical activity, and weight affect cancer risk.”

The IARC report evaluated data from over 800 different studies of cancer risk in humans, over 700 of which involved red meat and over 400 of which involved processed meat. A team of 22 international experts reviewed the evidence.

AICR continues to recommend avoiding processed meats and eating no more than 18 ounces of cooked red meat weekly to lower colorectal cancer risk. Our own analyses show that such moderate consumption of red meat is not associated with a notable increase in colorectal cancer risk. But they do show that regular consumption of even small amounts of hot dogs, bacon and other processed meats increase colorectal cancer risk.

Although WHO now classifies both processed meat and cigarettes in the highest category of carcinogen, these classifications reflect the strength of the evidence behind them, not the level of risk. We hope that media coverage of this new report is careful to consider the appropriate real-world context: In some studies, participants who eat diets high in processed meat experience a risk for colorectal cancer that is nearly double that of non-meat-eaters. But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking cigarettes multiplies a person’s risk for cancer by as much as 20 times.

AICR’s take-home message: by eating a healthy diet, staying a healthy weight and being active, AICR estimates that half of colorectal cancers could be prevented. In fact, for the most common US cancers, healthy changes to Americans’ diet, activity habits and weight could prevent an estimated one third of cancers, about 340,000 cases a year.

Additional Resources:

Bacon, Hot Dogs and Lunch Meat –
Is it Processed Meat?

AICR Recommendations on Red
and Processed Meat (Infographic)

To learn more about AICR’s Recommendations for Cancer Prevention, and find healthy alternatives to red and processed meat, visit aicr.org.


Editor’s Notes: The conclusions and report Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and the Prevention of Colorectal Cancer, is available on the CUP pages.

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