A large US study looking at the diet and health of around half a million men and women revealed that those who ate the most red meat had a 20-60 per cent higher risk for oesophageal, colorectal, liver and lung cancer compared to those who ate the least. People who ate the most processed meat had a 20 per cent higher risk for bowel cancer and a 16 per cent higher risk for lung cancer.
In another article in the same issue of PLoS Medicine the authors list a wide list of compounds found in red and processed meats that may be responsible for the link with cancer. These include carcinogenic (cancer-causing) substances such as N-nitroso compounds, heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons – eek! Other harmful compounds found in meat include salts, haeme iron, saturated fat and oestrogen. These may all promote the development of cancer.
Cross AJ, Leitzmann MF, Gail MH, Hollenbeck AR, Schatzkin A, Sinha R. 2007. A prospective study of red and processed meat intake in relation to cancer risk. PLoS Medicine. 4 (12) e325.
Genkinger JM, Koushik A. 2007. Meat consumption and cancer risk. PLoS Medicine. 4 (12) e345.