A major study has found fresh
evidence of a link between red and processed meat and bowel cancer,
The European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition
(EPIC) looked at the dietary habits of over 500,000 people across
Europe over 10 years.
Those eating over two 80g portions of red meat a day were a third
more likely to get bowel cancer than those eating less than one
portion a week, it found.
EPIC's study is reported in the Journal of the National Cancer
||Bowel Cancer Risk|
There are 17 cases per 10,000
50-year-olds a year among the group eating more than two
portions of red meat a day There are 12 cases per 10,000
50-year-olds a year among the group eating less than one
portion of red meat a week
Since it began, 1,330 people have developed bowel cancer.
The study also found a low fibre diet increased the risk of bowel
Eating poultry had no impact but the risk for people who ate one
portion or more of fish every other day was nearly a third lower
than those who ate fish less than once a week.
Lead researcher Professor Sheila
Bingham, of the MRC Dunn Human Nutrition Unit in Cambridge, said:
"People have suspected
for some time that high levels of red and
processed meat increase risk of bowel cancer, but this is one of the
largest studies worldwide and the first from Europe of this type to
show a strong relationship."
Professor Bingham said there were several theories about why red
meat should increase the risk of bowel cancer.
In England and Wales the lifetime
risk of being diagnosed with bowel cancer is 1 in 18 for men
and 1 in 20 for women 18,500 cases in men and over 16,000
cases in women are newly diagnosed each year If the cancer is
caught at an early stage, eight out of 10 cases can be
She believes the most likely explanation is that compounds called
haemoglobin and myoglobin, which are found in red meat, trigger a
process called nitrosation in the gut, which leads to the formation
of carcinogenic compounds.
Alternatively, the problem might be caused by compounds called
heterocyclic amines, carcinogenic compounds created in the cooking
However, these compounds are also found in poultry, which has not
been linked to an increased cancer risk.
Professor Tim Key, of the charity Cancer Research UK, said: "This
study strengthens evidence that bowel cancer risk can be cut by
increasing fibre in the diet and reducing consumption of red and
The researchers defined red meat was defined as beef, lamb, pork
and veal.The Meat and Livestock Commission (MLC) said people in
Britain ate well below the 160g per day consumption levels that were
used to class high intake in the study.
Mike Attenborough, MLC technical director, said: "Once again this
points towards the need for moderation and balance in what we
The study was funded by the Medical Research Council, Cancer
Research UK and the International Agency for Research on