According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), eating processed meat products can increase a person’s risk for developing colorectal cancer. Processed meat is classified as meat that has been salted, cured, fermented, or smoked to add flavor or preserve the meat. These meats include ham, bacon, sausages, corned beef, hot dogs, canned meat, and beef jerky. Red meat includes beef, veal, pork, mutton, lamb, or goat.
According to the American Cancer Society, more than 102,000 individuals will be diagnosed with colon and 40,000 with rectal cancer annually in the United States. Combined colorectal (CRC) cancer is responsible for approximately 50,000 deaths each year. Most importantly however, CRC death rates have been declining over the past 15 years and death from CRC is very preventable.
The IARC report evaluated data from several studies conducted over the past 20 years and concluded that based on “sufficient evidence” processed meat causes CRC. They estimate that each 50-gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent.
Consumption of either red meat or processed meat increases an individual’s risk of developing CRC compared to those who eat little or no processed meat. Low meat intake is typically defined as no more than two servings per week. Whether or not to eliminate processed meat from your diet completely is an individual choice and probably not required. However reducing red meat consumption and substituting it with other alternatives like chicken and fish is likely to be beneficial.
The IARC report does not mean that everyone who eats processed or red meat will develop CRC, nor does it mean that not eating these meats will eliminate an individual’s risk of developing CRC. Under no circumstances does the report suggest that individuals who do not eat processed meat should forego screening for CRC with colonoscopy or other tests.