Are processed meats really cancer causing? By Esther Au Yong
Can bacon cause cancer? (Photo: 123rf.com/Jacek Nowak)
Recently, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an arm of the World Health Organization (WHO), announced that it has classified processed meats under a grouping of carcinogens that include tobacco. These processed items include bacon, ham and sausages.
Citing an analysis of more than 800 studies, the IARC said it has found enough evidence to link processed meats to colon cancer. Also known as colorectal or bowel cancer, it affects the large intestine, which consists of the colon and rectum. The agency concluded that a 50g portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 per cent.
How does this news affect us in Singapore?
Here are three things to note:
Colorectal cancer is the No. 1 cancer in Singapore
Colorectal cancer is the most common cancer here. According to statistics available on the Singapore Cancer Society website, 17.2 per cent of male patients who were diagnosed with cancer between 2010 and 2014 had colorectal cancer. It was the most common form of cancer among men. It was ranked second (at 13 per cent), behind breast cancer, among women.
What are processed meats?
These are meats that have been transformed through processes, like smoking, salting, curing and fermentation, for preservation purposes or for flavour enhancement. Examples include corned beef, hot dogs, ham, sausages, beef jerky, luncheon meat and other canned meat items.
Scientists believe that the processes can result in the formation of known carcinogenic chemicals such as N-nitroso-compounds and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in the meat.
Should you stop eating processed meats?
Moderation is key, say many local doctors and experts. In light of the report, the advice is to keep consumption of processed meats to a minimum and to adopt healthy eating habits in general.
The Health Promotion Board have said that the average adult Singaporean consumes about 10g of processed meat a day – that’s about half a hot dog.
It’s also important to note that in comparison to other Group 1 carcinogenic agents, such as tobacco, processed meats contribute to a comparatively small proportion of cancer cases. Smoking accounts for over 80 per cent of all lung cancers, while about 20 per cent of colorectal cancers are caused by processed or red meat.