High Meat Consumption Linked to Heightened Cancer Risk

TUESDAY, Dec. 11 (HealthDay News) -- A quarter-pound hamburger or a small pork chop eaten daily could put you at increased risk for a variety of cancers, U.S. government health researchers report.

The more red meat and processed meat you eat, the greater your risk, the researchers from the National Cancer Institute concluded.

"Red and processed meats have been associated with an elevated risk with colorectal cancer. We investigated whether this association was also evident for cancers at other anatomic sites," explained lead author Amanda Cross, an epidemiologist at the National Cancer Institute (NCI). "This is the largest study to look at the effect of red and processed meat on multiple cancer sites, including rarer cancers, such as laryngeal and liver cancer."

For the study, red meats included beef, pork and lamb. Processed meats included bacon, red-meat sausage, poultry sausage, luncheon meats, cold cuts, ham, regular hot dogs and low-fat hot dogs.

Cross and her team from the National Institutes of Health and the AARP analyzed health data from 500,000 people aged 50 to 71 who participated in the National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health Study beginning in 1995-1996. They followed participants for about eight years, during which time they recorded 53,396 cases of cancer. In addition to meat consumption habits, the participants detailed other lifestyle choices such as smoking and exercise.

The team then grouped people into five categories according to their level of meat consumption.

"The highest category of red meat was those consuming the equivalent of a quarter pound hamburger or a small steak or a pork chop per day," said Cross, who added that the lowest category was equivalent to approximately three thin slices of ham or less per day.

For processed meat, the lowest category of consumption equated to no more than one slice of bacon a day, while the highest consumption category covered four slices a day.

The median consumption of red meat was 31.4 grams per 1,000 calories, which is about two and a half ounces of red meat a day for a person consuming the average 2,000-calorie diet.

Overall, the researchers found elevated risks for colorectal and lung cancer with high consumption of both meat types along with borderline higher risks for advanced prostate cancer. High red meat intake was also associated with increased risk of esophageal and liver and a borderline increased risk for laryngeal cancer. And high processed meat consumption also was associated with borderline increased risk for bladder cancer and myeloma, a kind of bone cancer.

In addition, both red meat and processed meat consumption were associated with increased pancreatic cancer risk in men, but not women.

And the research team noted an unexpected effect of red meat on endometrial cancer: the more red meat women consumed, the less likely they were to suffer from endometrial cancer.

"Our findings for colorectal cancer are consistent with the recommendations from the recently published World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research to limit consumption of red meats, such as beef, pork and lamb," said Cross. "Our study also suggests that individuals consuming high quantities of red meat may be at an elevated risk for esophageal, liver and lung cancer."

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