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Do You Really Need to Stop Bringing Home the Bacon? New Report Links Processed Meats to Cancer

Bacon in pan

A report from the World Health Organization (WHO) provided the most compelling evidence yet linking processed and red meat to cancer, particularly colon cancer. Does this mean you have to give up your morning bacon?

The Latest Research

The International Agency for Research on Cancer, the cancer arm of WHO, reviewed more than 800 studies from around the world, spanning different races and diets, and now classifies processed meat as a definite carcinogen, and red meat as a probable cancer-causing substance.

What is Considered Processed Meat and Red Meat?

Processed meats have been salted, cured, smoked or undergone other processes to enhance flavor or improve preservation. Most contain pork or beef, but may also contain other red meats, poultry, or meat by-products. Examples include: hot dogs, ham, sausages, bacon, salami, corned beef, beef jerky, canned meat, and meat-based sauces.

Red meat refers to beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, and goat.

What do the Findings Mean for the General Population?

For many years, medical literature suggested colon cancer was more common among people whose diets were high in processed meat and red meat. The latest research from WHO finds a definite link between consumption of processed meats and colorectal cancer (and perhaps other cancers). Researchers acknowledge the link between red meat and cancer has not been proved.

WHO estimates that daily consumption of 50 grams of processed meat or 100 grams of red meat might increase the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent and 17 percent respectively. Data also shows associations to cancers of the pancreas and stomach, and advanced stage prostate cancer.

While 18 percent and 17 percent sound like fairly large numbers, the cancer risk is relatively small risk compared to individuals who consume small amounts of processed and red meats.

Does Red and Processed Meat Still have a Place in Healthy Diet?

Regularly eating large amounts of red and processed meat over a long period of time is probably not the best approach if your goal is to live a long and healthy life. In moderation, however, these meats are acceptable and are good sources of nutrients such as protein and iron.

Bottom line, it is about being sensible. In other words, not eating too much too often.

author name

Nandi J. Reddy, MD

Nandi J. Reddy, MD, is a hematologist-oncologist with LG Health Physicians Hematology and Medical Oncology. Dr. Reddy’s areas of expertise include cancers of the digestive system, gastrointestinal disorders, and general adult oncology and hematology.

Education: Medical School–Siddhartha Medical College; Residency–Texas Tech University; Fellowship–Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

Call: 717-544-9400

About LG Health Hub

The LG Health Hub features breaking medical news and straightforward advice to help individuals of all ages make healthy choices and reach their wellness goals. The blog puts articles by trusted Lancaster General Health clinical experts, good 'n healthy recipes, videos, patient stories, and health risk assessments at your fingertips.


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