Processed Meat and Cancer: A Closer Look at the World Health Organization’s Findings

On October 26th, 2015 the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that processed meat consumption is linked to specific cancers.

With this report came an influx of media coverage and online articles with contradictory titles ranging from Processed Meats Give You Cancer to Stop Panicking About Cancer Risk from Processed and Red Meat, Experts Say.

Here’s what we gathered: Yes, processed meat is linked to some cancers, but not all cancers. The primary correlation is with colorectal cancer, but associations were also seen for pancreatic cancer and prostate cancer.

Though these findings were shocking to many, it shouldn’t be surprising that heavily processed meats such as pastrami, bacon, sausage, and bologna are not exactly healthy. But what makes this statement by WHO notable is the fact that it was not just one study that found a link between processed meat and some cancers; it’s a conclusion drawn from multiple studies.

Luckily, processed meats are easy to recognize and avoid. For example, you could forgo pepperoni on your pizzas or start opting for fruit over bacon and sausage at breakfast. These are just a few simple ways to say no to processed meats. Likewise, mindfully reducing red meat intake to one or two meals a week can also dramatically reduce your exposure.

Perhaps the most shocking aspect of the WHO’s statements concerning processed and red meats was the new classification which placed these foods in the same category as tobacco and asbestos in regards to carcinogenic risk. However, it should be noted that this does not mean they are equally as dangerous. As the WHO website outlines: classifications describe the strength of the scientific evidence about an agent being a cause of cancer, rather than assessing the level of risk.
Evidence that processed meat causes colon cancer is as strong as the evidence for tobacco causing lung cancer, but the risk from tobacco is much, much higher.
According to the WHO’s website, 21% of colorectal cancers (which accounts for 3% of all cancers) are likely caused by processed and red meat. If nobody ate any processed or red meat, there would be 8,800 fewer cases. However, 86% of lung cancers are caused by tobacco (which accounts for 19% of all cancers). If nobody smoked, there would be 64,500 fewer cases.

It’s important to stay educated on relevant health topics. At DeMoss Chiropractic, we host health and lifestyle workshops monthly that are meant to keep you informed and healthy. Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter and check out our website for updates regarding upcoming health and wellness workshops held within our practice.

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