Processed Meat and Cancer : Examining the Potential Link

by James Brown

Updated October 26, 2023


Concerns about the potential link between processed meat consumption and cancer development have recently been raised. Processed meats, such as bacon, sausages, ham, hot dogs, and deli meats, undergo various preservation methods, but their impact on human health has become a subject of debate. This article aims to explore the topic of processed meat and cancer, examining the available evidence and scientific research surrounding this association.

Definition of Processed Meat:

Processed meat refers to meat that has undergone various preservation methods, such as salting, curing, smoking, or adding chemical preservatives. Examples of processed meat include bacon, sausages, ham, hot dogs, and deli meats.

These methods enhance flavor, extend shelf life, and improve convenience. However, these preservation techniques may introduce substances that could have carcinogenic properties or contribute to cancer development.

Data Support and Authoritative Reports:

●World Health Organization (WHO):The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a specialized agency of the WHO, evaluated the potential carcinogenicity of processed meat in 2015. Based on a comprehensive review of the available evidence, the IARC classified processed meat as a Group 1 carcinogen, indicating that there is sufficient evidence to support the association between processed meat consumption and an increased risk of cancer.

●A comprehensive review conducted by twenty-two experts from ten countries analyzed over 800 studies to investigate the relationship between processed meat consumption and cancer risk. Their findings revealed that consuming 50 grams of processed meat daily increased the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%. To put it in perspective, this amount is equivalent to approximately four strips of bacon or one hot dog. Additionally, the review highlighted evidence suggesting an increased risk of colorectal, pancreatic, and prostate cancer associated with red meat consumption.

IARC Monographs:

The IARC monograph on evaluating carcinogenic risks to humans provides comprehensive assessments of potential carcinogens. In its evaluation, the IARC reviewed numerous studies and concluded that there is convincing evidence that processed meat consumption increases the risk of colorectal cancer.

The lifetime risk of developing colon cancer is approximately 5% on average. Considering the increased risk identified in the study, the average lifetime risk would rise to nearly 6%. It is important to note that these figures provide context and help individuals understand the impact of their dietary choices on cancer risk.

Studies on Colorectal Cancer:

Several epidemiological studies have investigated the link between processed meat and colorectal cancer. A study published in the International Journal of Cancer in 2018 analyzed data from over 475,000 participants and found a positive association between processed meat consumption and colorectal cancer risk.

Mechanisms and Potential Carcinogens:

Processed meat contains various compounds that may contribute to cancer development. For example, the nitrites and nitrates used in preservation can form N-nitroso compounds, known carcinogens. High-temperature cooking methods, such as grilling or frying, can also produce heterocyclic aromatic amines (HAAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) linked to cancer.

Other Types of Cancer:

The IARC Working Group concluded that eating processed meat causes colorectal cancer. An association with stomach cancer was also seen, but the evidence is inconclusive.

Colleen Doyle, MS, RD, Managing Director of Nutrition and Physical Activity at the American Cancer Society, emphasizes the significance of limiting red and processed meat intake to reduce the risk of colon cancer and potentially other cancers. She advises that occasional consumption of hot dogs or hamburgers is acceptable.

The American Cancer Society has long recommended a diet that restricts the consumption of processed and red meats while emphasizing the inclusion of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. The organization's Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention suggest using fish, poultry, or beans as alternatives to red and processed meats.

In addition to dietary choices, several other factors contribute to cancer risk reduction. Avoiding tobacco, maintaining a healthy weight, engaging in regular physical activity, and limiting alcohol intake are crucial in lowering the risk of various types of cancer.


The classification of processed meat as a Group 1 carcinogen by the IARC highlights the potential link between processed meat consumption and an increased risk of cancer, particularly colorectal cancer. While further research is needed to understand the underlying mechanisms and determine specific risk levels fully, it is advisable to moderate the consumption of processed meats and explore healthier alternatives. As new scientific evidence emerges, staying informed and consulting with healthcare professionals is crucial to making well-informed dietary choices that promote overall health and reduce cancer risk.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your health or dietary choices.
Article by
James Brown
Hello,I'm James, an editor at BeWellFinder, where I'm dedicated to sharing my expertise to provide you with valuable insights.

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