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Bacon, sausages and ham do cause cancer - UN agency

The World Health Organisation says there is strong evidence that processed meats are carcinogenic.

Image: Shutterstock/Stephen Gibson

EATING SAUSAGES, HAM and other processed meats causes colorectal cancer, and red meat ”probably” too, the World Health Organisation’s cancer research agency said today.

The findings support “recommendations to limit intake of meat”, said the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which compiled a review of more than 800 studies on the link between a meat diet and cancer.

“In view of the large number of people who consume processed meat, the global impact on cancer incidence is of public health importance,” IARC official Kurt Straif said in a statement.

For an individual, the risk of getting cancer from eating processed meat was statistically “small”, he said, but “increases with the amount of meat consumed”.

The agency claims that eating a 50-gram (1.8-ounce) portion of processed meat every day increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent.

This meant enlarging the group of people likely to develop bowel cancer in their lifetime from six to seven out of every 100 who eat a three-rasher bacon sandwich every single day, explained statistician David Spiegelhalter of Cambridge University, who was not involved in the study.

The report was compiled by 22 experts from 10 countries.

Strong evidence

The evaluation revealed “strong mechanistic evidence supporting a carcinogenic effect” for red meat consumption – mainly for cancer of the colon and rectum, but also the pancreas and prostate, said the agency based in Lyon, France.

Red meat includes beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse and goat.

As for processed meat – including hot dogs, sausages, corned beef or canned meat – there was “sufficient evidence in humans that the consumption of processed meat causes colorectal cancer”.

Meat can be processed in various ways, through salting, curing, fermentation or smoking.

Given that red meat is an important source of human nutrition, the results should help governments and regulatory agencies balance the risk and benefits of eating meat, said the agency.

It did not make a finding on whether the cooking method of meat affects the cancer risk.

The agency added processed meat to the same category of cancer-causing agents as tobacco smoke and asbestos, but stressed this did not mean it was just as dangerous.

- © AFP, 2015

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