Do Processed Meats Cause Cancer?

By J.Dncsn (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), processed meats such as ham, bacon and sausage increase a person’s chances of developing cancer. The recent report stated that eating 50g of processed meat every day increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%.

What’s the Danger?

The World Health Organization stressed that red meats could possibly be carcinogenic, but there is limited evidence to support that claim. WHO did highlight the importance and health benefits of eating meat.

According to Cancer Research UK, this study was a reason to cut back on red meats, but not to give them up entirely.

Processed meat has been modified to increase its longevity on a grocery store shelf. Processing can also be done to change the flavor of meat and it is accomplished through smoking, curing or adding salt or preservatives to it.

It is the addition of curing agents that may be the reason for an increased risk of cancer. Other factors which could contribute to it include cooking cured meats at high temperatures such as barbecuing, because it can create carcinogenic chemicals.

How Bad Is It?

The World Health Organization has arrived at the explanation on the advice of its International Agency for Research on Cancer. This organization assesses the best possible available scientific evidence.

It has now put processed meats in the same category not only as plutonium, but also alcohol as these substances are known carcinogens.

Dr. Kurt Straif from the World Health Organization states, “For an individual, the risk of developing colorectal (bowel) cancer because of their consumption of processed meats remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed.”

It’s estimated that 34,000 deaths caused by cancer each year could be linked to diets that are high in processed meats. This is in direct contrast with the one million deaths that are attributed to smoking and 600,000 that are linked to alcohol annually.
The WHO states there is limited evidence that 100g of red meat daily increases the risk of cancer by 17%. These recent findings are extremely important for helping countries provide balanced and beneficial dietary recommendations.


Professor Tim Key, from the Cancer Research UK and University of Oxford, said “This decision doesn’t mean you need to stop eating any red and processed meat, but if you eat lots of it you may want to think about cutting down. Eating a bacon bap every once in a while isn’t going to do much harm-having a healthy diet is all about moderation.”

The Meat Advisory Panel, an industry leader said, “avoiding red meat in the diet is not a protective strategy against cancer,” and it states the focus should be on smoking tobacco, body weight and alcohol consumption.


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