Red meat ‘raises bowel cancer risk’

A charity has claimed that cutting down on red and processed meat could cut incidences of bowel cancer by almost a half.

The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) has published what it called “the most authoritative ever report of bowel cancer risk” and recommended people limit their intake of red meat to 500g a week, or just over a pound in weight. Cutting down on red and processed meat, eating more fibre and exercising regularly could cut bowel cancers by 43%, or 17,000 cases a year, it said.

The advice is based on analysing 24 separate studies looking at meat consumption and bowel cancer incidence.

Alan Jackson, professor of nutrition at Southampton University, who chaired the expert panel, said: “On meat, the clear message that comes out of our report is that red and processed meat increase risk of bowel cancer and that people who want to reduce their risk should consider cutting down the amount they eat.”

Maureen Strong, senior nutritionist with the Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), said the updated WCRF claims added little to the existing science.

Strong said: “The updated WCRF review of the evidence on colorectal cancer appears to show nothing different from claims made previously.

“The recommendation of a 500g of red meat per week is unchanged from the previous WCRF report and tallies with current average consumption levels in the UK, so there is no reason for the vast majority of people to think about altering their consumption.

“It is suggested that high consumers of red meat may benefit from reducing their intake to average. However, it is very difficult to tease out the impact of an individual food or food group to our health. Confounding factors, such as the lack of physical activity, body weight and general eating patterns all have a part to play. This suggests an individual may be at higher risk because of a combination of lifestyle choices rather than consumption of a single protein.

“Fresh red meat is rarely consumed on its own, but combined with other food groups, like those containing fibre in main meals or sandwiches, and the WCRF acknowledges that fibre has a positive effect on reducing the risk of colorectal cancer.”

The WCRF added there was “convincing” evidence that eating fibre-rich foods like fruit and vegetables protects against bowel cancer. A previous report in 2007 only said this was a “probable” effect.

The report also concluded there was convincing evidence that being physically active reduces bowel cancer risk.

Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in Britain, after breast and lung cancer. It causes about 15,000 deaths a year.

>> Meat leaders fight back on “cut back” claims

>> Rockville Institute: meat can cause bladder cancer


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