Sausages And Bacon Linked To Bowel Cancer In New WHO Study

Sausages And Bacon Linked To Bowel Cancer In New WHO Study

In 2014 more than 14,000 Australians were diagnosed with bowel cancer and around 4000 of us die from the disease each year. Today, a scientific report from the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) drew definite links between processed meats and bowel cancer, with red meats also cited as a possible cause. Here’s what you need to know.

Eating sausages, bacon and other processed meats causes colon cancer, and there is strong epidemiological evidence that suggests unprocessed red meats also have a cancer-causing effect. These are the startling claims made in a new IARC report that analysed 800 studies from around the world.

After sifting through decades’ worth of scientific literature, an IARC working group of 22 experts from 10 countries classified the consumption of processed meat as a Group 1 carcinogen to humans. This means there is “sufficient evidence” that the consumption of processed meat causes bowel, or colorectal, cancer.

Worryingly, this is the same category of cancer-causing agents as tobacco smoke and asbestos. “Each 50-gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 per cent,” the agency claimed in a statement.

Red meat, meanwhile, was categorised as a “Group 2A probable carcinogen” based on limited evidence. This basically means that a positive association has been observed as it relates to the onset of colorectal cancer in humans, but more research is needed. In addition to colorectal cancer, associations were also seen for pancreatic cancer and prostate cancer.

Based on the available evidence, the increased risk of cancer was estimated to be 17% for people who consume 100g of red meat daily.

Here’s what the IARC had to say on the link between meats and cancer:

Meat consists of multiple components, such as haem iron. Meat can also contain chemicals that form during meat processing or cooking. For instance, carcinogenic chemicals that form during meat processing include N-nitroso compounds and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Cooking of red meat or processed meat also produces heterocyclic aromatic amines as well as other chemicals including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are also found in other foods and in air pollution. Some of these chemicals are known or suspected carcinogens, but despite this knowledge it is not yet fully understood how cancer risk is increased by red meat or processed meat.

Processed meats have long been associated with an increased risk of cancer. However, the latest report is one of the most aggressive stances ever taken by a medical body.

So what does this mean for your diet? According to Cancer Council Australia’s chief scientific advisor Professor Bernard Stewart, the important thing to do is exercise moderation.

“No-one’s proposing that we ban bacon, put warnings on hot dogs or take beef off the barbie. But this WHO review provides compelling evidence that the long-term consumption of red meat and/or processed meat increases your risk of cancer,” Stewart said in a statement.

“This report…is one of the most complex assessments of the medical and scientific literature ever undertaken concerning a particular cancer risk. The findings provide a new degree of certainty for health authorities who produce evidence-based dietary guidelines.”

It’s worth noting that you can reduce the risk of bowel cancer by regularly eating foods that are high in dietary fibre, such as wholegrains, legumes, high-fibre cereals, vegetables and fruit. It is estimated that for every ten grams of fibre you consume per day, your risk reduces by 10%.

Naturally, you should try to be as physically active as possible. As little as 30 minutes of exercise per day can help to reduce the risk of bowel cancer. You can also check how processed meats are chemically preserved. (Hamburger patties from the butcher usually contain no additives, for example.)

In conclusion, processed meats should definitely be avoided as a daily indulgence: if you’re eating 50g per day, are overweight and aren’t getting much exercise, you might want to make some changes.

Red meats should be capped at no more than seven 65g serves per week. As long as you stick to those guidelines, the health benefits of red meat probably outweigh the risks.

Additional reporting by George Dvorsky


  • I’ll probably chance my view if I actually got cancer but at a certain point you really got to question whether it is worth a few extra years when you have to avoid all the good stuff.

    • There are so many things that cause cancer that it’s not really worth worrying about. As long as you aren’t eating uranium and stuff you’ll be fine.

  • Napkin maths time!

    Let’s quickly google ‘2014 australia population’ and use the figures in the article.

    2014 there were roughly 23.9M Australians.
    Roughly 14,000 were diagnosed with bowel cancer.
    Roughly 4,000 died.
    For simplicity’s sake, lets assume that everyone who got cancer was already eating red/processed meat.

    If you’re currently eating cancermeat, your odds seem to be 0.06% of being diagnosed with bowel cancer (not dying from it).

    Cutting red/processed meat out of your diet would improve your odds of getting bowl cancer to be 18% less… making your odds of getting bowel cancer… 0.05%.

    Your chances of dying from it currently are 0.017%. Your chances of dying would decrease to 0.016%.
    Or, if rounding to something statistically significant, stay the same at 0.02%

    …I think it’s probably safe to have that piece of bacon.

    • What if you end up with cancer ? Does all this math matters? Wont you wish that you would have avoided the meat rather than writing those few lines in the napkin. The finding suggest that processed meat is as dangerous as smoking. It might be wise to reconsider!

      • “Processed meat is as dangerous as smoking”

        It doesn’t suggest that at all. The categories in the report represent the WHO’s degree of certainty that those factors cause cancer, and not the likelihood that they will cause cancer.

        According to that report, “High consumers of processed meats were about 1.3 times more likely to develop cancer, whereas smokers were 20 times more likely to develop cancer”

        I am not downplaying this report, but let’s get things in perspective. And eating bacon is not the only factor. Smoking, alcohol, lifestyle, etc, also have an influence.

  • Just about everything these days causes cancer according to all the health organizations out there.

    So pass the bacon! Life is too short anyway to be afraid of everything out there

  • Nothing against Cancer patients and what not as i have the most respect for them and what they are going through (have a few deaths from it in my family) But i would really love for the WHO and other places to put money into researching other medical issues.

    Right now my son is going through a shit-house medical problem (not cancer related) and he gets next to no support where you know if it was cancer he would be. Some idiot in the USA jacks the price of an aids drug and everyone rages a drug company cancels the trial of a drug that is showing massive signs of improvement in many patients but because they are not in line with what they expect they just dump it no one cares but the people it is affecting.

    Sorry for going off topic but as a person who has been through some medical crap and seeing my son go through it as well it just annoys me that all these other big medical problems get so much attention when the smaller problems which when you crunched numbers you would realise roughly the same if not more die from they are ignored,

    Processed meats and fatty foods are what my son needs to keep some sort of healthy weight i shouldn’t now have to think about my son damn well dying from cancer when he is already sick enough as it is.

    Sorry for the rant everyone and i will shut up now.

    • Sorry to hear of your son’s problems and I hope that he is able to get the help he needs to be healthy as soon as possible. You obviously care immensely for him, and that is worth so much.

      Processed meats and fatty foods are what my son needs to keep some sort of healthy weight

      And you should keep feeding to him if it helps. What this analysis of studies found was that your chance of cancer rises from 0.027% (at age 40) to 0.030% if you eat processed meats every single day of your life.

      To put that into perspective, if you were dealt one single hand of poker you have more chance of getting a 10, Jack, Queen, King, Ace than getting cancer.

      The papers of course love to click-bait so have thrown all sorts of outlandish claims and mis-quotes to make people think it matters. The truth is that “Bacon deaths” are about 30,000 people a year worldwide. More people die from tripping over.

      But i would really love for the WHO and other places to put money into researching other medical issues.

      This whole exercise cost pretty much nothing. It was not a trial or research, it was a meta-analysis. Redirection of it’s costs into other diseases and disorders wouldn’t even be a drop in the bucket.

      But yes, I do see your greater point and I think most people hope that more money can be provided for health services and research, especially when the disorder is affecting a child. We can continue to push our government to do what they can, and continue to hope that Pharma companies keep researching and keep making breakthroughs – with the inevitable profits they get for that.

  • The problem is digestion, I am not talking digesting processed foods… I am talking about consuming processed soundbites from media releases. They cause cancer in society.

    Food is good one year, bad for you the next, good again later on… or superfood one year, debunked the other (what happened to wheatgrass)… happens all the time.

    The thing with the WHO report, its nothing we already didnt know, eating large volumes of red meat attributes to stomach, bowel and heart problems. The studies that attribute to the findings that show signs of carcinogenics also mention in the part that no one reads or didnt make a screaming “EAT BACON AND DIE” soundbite is the trace amounts are miniscule in the average consumption levels of humans and that if an average consumer of a moderate red meat diet will see no decrease effect on their risk of bowel/colon cancer if they cut red/processed meats out of their diet… cause they consume a moderate amount and not at risk.

    Those the will see increase risk consuming red/processed meat (and see a decrease in not consuming it) are those who unhealthily consuming large quantities of the food.

    So eating bacon is fine, eating a whole entire pigs worth of bacon in one sitting BAD!!!.

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