Meat and Colorectal Cancer

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Colorectal cancer makes up 13% of all new cases of cancer in Canada.

People with colorectal cancer have a five-year survival rate of 65%, which is considered average.

Recent evidence has revealed that red meat and processed meats increase consumers’ risk of colorectal cancer. Red meat contains haem, which, when consumed, damages the DNA of colon cells after only a few weeks.

Also, when meat is cooked at high temperature, it releases polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and heterocyclic amines, which can cause cancer in people who are genetically predisposed.

Scientists have found that eating up to 18 oz per week of red meat is safe. However, there are no safe levels of consumption of processed meat. The more you consume, the greater your cancer risk. Every 1.7 oz or processed meat consumed increases colon cancer risk by 21%. The main reason is that processed meat is preserved using nitrates, which the body converts to nitrosamines. Nitrosamines are carcinogenic.

A study was conducted in Europe in 2005 on the relationship between colon cancer and meat consumption. The study tracked 478,000 men and women, all of whom were cancer free at the beginning of the study. It was found that the study participants who consumed 5 oz or more of red meat per day had a 30% greater risk of colon cancer than the participants who ate less than 1 oz of red meat per day.  Eating chicken appeared to have no effect on colon cancer risk, and eating a diet high in fish actually reduced the risk of developing colon cancer by 30%.

What can you do to reduce your risk of colorectal cancer?

  • Maintain a healthy weight by eating a healthy diet that is high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fish, and by exercising regularly.
  • Consuming calcium in the form of low- or nonfat dairy products appears to be protective.
  • Avoid tobacco.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation (no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men).
  • If you choose to eat red meat, limit your intake to two 4 oz portions per week. Eat lean cuts, and cut off excess fat and any charred portions.
  • Avoid eating cured, salted, and processed meats.

 

 

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