Processed meat, such as bacon or hot dogs, causes cancer, a World Health Organization group said in a long-awaited determination on Monday. The group said red meat, including beef, pork and lamb, probably causes cancer, too.
Many studies show the links, both in populations of people and in tests that show how eating these foods can cause cancer, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) said in its report, released in the Lancet medical journal.
“These findings further support current public health recommendations to limit intake of meat,” Dr. Christopher Wild, who directs IARC, said in a statement.
Most reports on the links between meat and cancer have been softened with some element of doubt, but the IARC uses clear and direct language in saying processed meat causes cancer. There are no phrases such as “may cause” in the report.
“Overall, the Working Group classified consumption of processed meat as ‘carcinogenic to humans’ on the basis of sufficient evidence for colorectal cancer,” the report reads.
“Additionally, a positive association with the consumption of processed meat was found for stomach cancer. The Working Group classified consumption of red meat as ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’,” it added.
“Consumption of red meat was also positively associated with pancreatic and with prostate cancer.”
It also defines red meat.
“Red meat refers to unprocessed mammalian muscle meat—for example, beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse, or goat meat—including minced or frozen meat; it is usually consumed cooked,” the IARC said in its report.
“Processed meat refers to meat that has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other processes to enhance flavor or improve preservation. Most processed meats contain pork or beef, but might also contain other red meats, poultry, offal (eg, liver), or meat byproducts such as blood.”
The report specifically names ham, hot dogs, sausages and jerky.
It’s not startling news – the evidence has been building for years that eating meat, especially processed and red meat, raises the risk of cancer.
It’s been linked with breast cancer, colon cancer and may worsen prostate cancer.
The IARC assembled a team of experts to review all the evidence.
“The experts concluded that each 50 gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent,” the IARC said.
“For an individual, the risk of developing colorectal cancer because of their consumption of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed,” said IARC’s Dr. Kurt Straif.
“In view of the large number of people who consume processed meat, the global impact on cancer incidence is of public health importance.”
The U.S. National Cancer Institute says several more studies are ongoing to assess the risk.