This week the World Health Organization (WHO) formally designated processed and red meat as carcinogenic substances, listed in the same category as tobacco and asbestos. Twenty-two scientists recently met at the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) to discuss the evidence linking processed/red meat with cancer. In particular, a meta-analysis of colorectal cancer was discussed and demonstrated a statistically significant dose–response relationship – 17% increased risk (95% CI 1·05–1·31) per 100 g per day of red meat and 18% increased risk (95% CI 1·10–1·28) per 50 g per day of processed meat. Consumption of red meat/processed meat was found to associate with prostate, pancreatic and gastric cancers, as well. For more information regarding the science disussed at the IARC see the following article in Lancet.
The WHO’s unfortunate claim has sound scientific support, but the clinical significance is much less clear. According to Cancer Statistics – 2015 the lifetime risk for the development of colorectal cancer in the United States is approximately 4.5%. If an individual were to consume 5 slices of bacon (approximately 100 grams) per day every day, his/her lifetime colon cancer risk would increase to approximately 5.3%. In my mind, this is a reasonable price to pay for the heavenly goodness of barbecue, bacon and steak. All things in moderation! Am I right?