Confirmed: Ham and Hot Dogs Can Cause Cancer

in general 29 April 2016
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Confirmed: Ham and Hot Dogs Can Cause Cancer


The World Health Organisation has confirmed what health professionals have been saying for years: bacon, sausages, ham and other processed meats are a cause of cancer.

Eating 50g of processed meat a day, which is less than two slices of bacon, increases the chances of developing colorectal (bowel) cancer by 18%.

The report also said that red meats were "probably carcinogenic" but there was limited evidence.

Benefits

Despite the risks, the WHO said meat also has health benefits.

Cancer Research UK said this was a reason to cut down rather than give up red and processed meats, and an occasional bacon sandwich would do little harm.

Processing

Meat is termed 'processed' when it has been modified to extend its shelf life or alter its  taste. Methods of processing include:

  • Curing
  • Smoking
  • Adding salt
  • Adding preservatives

Mincing meat such as beef or lamb doesn't constitute processing, unless it is modified in other ways, as it is the chemicals used in processing which could be increasing the risk of cancer. Processed meat includes:

  • Sausages
  • Hot dogs
  • Salami
  • Bacon
  • Corned beef
  • Beef jerky
  • Ham 
  • Canned meat 
  • Meat-based sauces

Plutonium

The WHO has based its report on the advice of its International Agency for Research on Cancer, which assesses the best available scientific evidence.

It has now placed processed meat in the same category as plutonium and alcohol, as both are definite causes of cancer.

It doesn't mean they are equally dangerous though. For example, a bacon sandwich is not as bad as smoking.

Dr Kurt Straif from the WHO said: "For an individual, the risk of developing bowel cancer because of their consumption of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed."

Moderation

Prof Tim Key, from Cancer Research UK and the University of Oxford, said: "This decision doesn't mean you need to stop eating any red and processed meat, but if you eat lots of it you may want to think about cutting down.

"Eating a bacon bap every once in a while isn't going to do much harm - having a healthy diet is all about moderation."

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