On October 26th, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) published a report relating processed meat to colorectal cancer.
IARC set out to test the link between red meats, processed meats, and the likelihood they cause cancer. Working as the functionally independent cancer agency under the likes of the World Health Organization (WHO), the agency collaborated with 22 experts from 10 countries on the matter. The results were alarming.
In regards to red meat, the agency has classified this type of meat into Group 2A, noting as probably carcinogenic to humans. This result was “based on limited evidence of a link between consumption of red meat and cancer and a strong mechanistic evidence supporting a carcinogenic effect.” Other substances in Group 2A include any ultraviolet radiation, exposure to petroleum refining and certain current and former chemotherapy drugs.
Processed meat, however, did not fare so well. The agency has found that processed meat belongs to Group 1, classified as definitely carcinogenic to humans. This result was based on sufficient evidence linking the consumption of red meat and colorectal cancer.
The most influential evidence, per IARC, has been the large amount of cohort studies done over the last 20 years. Experts have concluded that each 50-gram portion of processed meat consumed per day increases the risk for colorectal cancer by 18%. Considering that the likelihood for this cancer in an average human is 5%, each 50-gram daily consumption increases the risk to 5.9%. This risk is associated with all processed meats, including bacon, sausages, hotdogs and more. This will pose a risk on the individual.
“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,” says Dr. Kurt Straif, Head of the IARC Monographs Program. “In view of the large number of people who consume processed meat, the global impact on cancer incidence is of public health importance.”
Since consumption is higher in certain parts of the world, it is necessary to alert the public. Processed meat is classified in Group 1 with the likes of cigarettes and plutonium. The grouping is not based on how harmful something is for you. Grouping is based on strength of scientific evidence saying that something is a carcinogen.
There is no doubt that this is a public health issue, as stated by the Head of the Program. The question is if one should give up their daily slice of bacon for breakfast. It depends: How much do you like your bacon? It’s up to you.