It’s official: Bacon, ham, hot dogs and other processed meats can lead to colon, stomach and other cancers – and red meat is probably cancer-causing, too.
While doctors in rich countries have long warned against eating too much meat, the World Health Organisation’s cancer agency gave the most definitive response yet Monday about its relation to cancer – and put processed meats in the same danger category as smoking or asbestos.
The same category, but not the same risk.
The cancer agency noted research by the Global Burden of Disease Project suggesting that 34,000 cancer deaths per year worldwide are linked to diets heavy in processed meat – compared with one million deaths a year linked to smoking, 600,000 a year to alcohol consumption and 200,000 a year to air pollution.
So what is the risk at an individual level?
The agency said it did not have enough data to define how much processed meat is too dangerous, but said the risk grows with the amount consumed. Analysis of 10 of the studies suggested that a 50-gram portion of processed meat daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer over a lifetime by about 18 percent.
The lifetime risk of colorectal cancer is 4.5%, so an 18% increased risk is an extra 0.8% risk.
So if you eliminate processed meats from your diet you are 0.8% less likely to get colorectal cancer. People can decide for themselves if going without processed meats for several decades is worth reducing your colorectal cancer risk by 0.8%.