Red and processed meat linked to increased risk of cancer death

In collaboration with the Press Association

People who regularly eat large amounts of red or processed meat appear to have a greater risk of death from cancer, US scientists have said.

A team at the National Cancer Institute in Maryland analysed more than 500,000 people who were involved in the National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health Study.

Participants were recruited in 1995, at which time they were aged between 50 and 71 years, and provided information on their intake of white, red and processed meats.

Over the next ten years 47,976 men and 23,276 women died, and the researchers found that the one fifth of men and women who ate the most red meat (approximately 62.5g per 1,000 calories per day) had a higher risk of death from cancer than those who ate the least.

They also had a higher risk of death from any cause, and a higher risk of death from heart disease.

Similarly, people who ate the most processed meat (approximately 22.6g per 1,000 calories per day) had a higher risk of overall death, and death from cancer or heart disease.

In contrast, people who ate the most white meat had a slightly lower risk of overall death and death from cancer.

Writing in the Archives of Internal Medicine, the researchers revealed: "For overall mortality, 11 per cent of deaths in men and 16 per cent of deaths in women could be prevented if people decreased their red meat consumption to the level of intake in the first quintile [one-fifth].

"These results complement the recommendations by the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund to reduce red and processed meat intake to decrease cancer incidence," they added.

Ed Yong, Cancer Research UK's health information manager, commented: "We're now in a position where two of the world's largest studies on diet and cancer have found that people are more likely to develop some cancers if they eat too much red or processed meat.

"No one's saying that people should avoid bacon or burgers completely, but evidence from large studies like this tells us that cutting down on these foods can reduce the risk of dying from cancer and other diseases.

"In this new study, people eating the most meat were eating about 160g of red or processed meat per day - approximately a 6oz steak - while those who ate the least were only getting about 25g per day - approximately a small rasher of bacon.

"To help reduce your risk of cancer, Cancer Research UK recommends a balanced diet high in fibre, fruit and vegetables and low in saturated fat, salt and red and processed meat."