Meat and Cancers: Analysis and Answers


Based on the posts “Meat and bladder cancer” and “Red meat and breast cancer” on the website Now with added science


Edited (with Introduction) by Dr. Don Rose, Writer, Life Alert




Does meat cause cancer? If so, is it just red meat, or are other varieties also at fault (such as chicken)? How great is the risk? Read the article below to learn more about potential correlations between meat and cancer -- and studies that deal with these issues. --Don Rose




Bladder Cancer and Meat

Reuters picked up an article last year from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, and ran it with the headline “Bacon tied to greater bladder cancer risk.” While the paper does show that people who eat a lot of bacon (more than 5 servings a week) are twice as likely to get bladder cancer as people who never eat bacon, the correlation between bacon consumption and bladder cancer incidence was not statistically significant. People who eat chicken without skin more than 5 times a week also experience an elevated risk for bladder cancer.

Nitrosamines are known bladder carcinogens in animal models; they are present at low levels in meat, cured meats, fish, cheese and beer. (Smokers are also exposed to high levels of nitrosamines.) Intake of the compound from cured meats has been linked to cancers of the digestive system, like stomach cancer. Heterocyclic amines are another carcinogen present in cooked meat.

The authors examined the association between specific meat items and bladder cancer in two large studies -- the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study and the Nurse’s Health Study. Although bacon and skinless chicken consumption were linked to bladder cancer, chicken with skin and other meats (including processed meats, hot dogs, and hamburgers) were not associated with cancer risk. The study also could not determine if it was nitrosamines, heterocyclic amines or something else that increased cancer risk.

Breast Cancer and Red Meat

Another study was released in a November 2006 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine showing that consumption of red meat could be correlated with the incidence of hormone receptor–positive tumors in American pre-menopausal women, and thus may be a risk factor for these types of breast cancer. Women who ate 1.5 servings of red meat a day had a higher incidence of receptor-positive cancers than those who ate three or less servings a week. The authors suggest that red meat may be associated with hormone receptor–positive breast cancer due to (1) known cancer-causing compounds in cooked or processed red meat that have been shown to increase mammary tumors in animals, (2) hormones in the meat, or (3) the type of iron available in red meat (which could enhance tumor formation).

While the above study may sound alarming to women, Cancer Research UK released a press release last year noting that “the reported increase was small, in absolute terms.”  They tried to put the increase in perspective, stating that “according to this study, a woman would need to eat more than one-and-a-half portions of meat a day, every day, to significantly increase her risk of hormone-sensitive breast cancer before the menopause. But the overall risk of pre-menopausal breast cancer is low when compared to getting the disease after the menopause. So even at the highest rates of meat consumption this is overall still a relatively small increase.”


The article above is covered by a Creative Commons Attribution- ShareAlike 2.5 License. The information provided is, to the best of our knowledge, reliable and accurate. However, while Life Alert always strives to provide true, precise and consistent information, we cannot guarantee 100 percent accuracy. Readers are encouraged to review the original article, and use any resource links provided to gather more information before drawing conclusions and making decisions.


Dr. Don Rose writes books, papers and articles on computers, the Internet, AI, science and technology, and issues related to seniors.

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