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Red Meat Link to Bowel Cancer

28 February 2011

UK - People who eat a lot of red and processed meat are being advised for the first time to consider cutting down to help reduce the risk of bowel cancer, the Department of Health announced.

The advice follows the publication of a new report, from the independent expert Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), which reviewed the evidence on the links between red and processed meat and bowel cancer. It concludes that red and processed meat probably increases the risk of bowel cancer and people who eat around 90g or more should consider cutting down to reduce their risk.

The Department advises:

  • people who eat a lot of red or processed meat - around 90g or more of cooked weight per day - are at greater risk of getting bowel cancer;
  • cutting down to the UK average of 70g a day can help reduce the risk; and
  • this can be achieved by eating smaller portions or by eating red and processed meat less often.

Examples of a 70g portion of meat are:

  • one medium portion shepherds pie and a rasher of bacon;
  • two standard beef burgers;
  • six slices of salami;
  • one lamb chop;
  • two slices of roast lamb, beef or pork; or
  • three slices of ham.

Every year, there are around 36,000 cases of bowel cancer in the UK and 16,500 deaths from the disease. Men are more likely to eat a lot of red and processed meat - 42 per cent of men compared to 12 per cent of women eat on average over 90g a day.

Interim Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies said: “Following simple diet and lifestyle advice can help protect against cancer.

“Red meat can be part of a healthy balanced diet. It is a good source of protein and vitamins and minerals, such as iron, selenium, zinc and B vitamins.

“But people who eat a lot of red and processed meat should consider cutting down. The occasional steak or extra few slices of lamb is fine but regularly eating a lot could increase your risk of bowel cancer.

“The impact of cancer on individuals and families can be devastating. Last month, we launched the first ever cancer awareness campaign about how to recognise the early signs and symptoms of bowel cancer. We’re now going a step further and giving scientific advice on how to help prevent it.”

Mark Flannagan, Chief Executive of Beating Bowel Cancer said: “We welcome this new advice from the Department of Health. The evidence suggests that a diet high in red and processed meat may increase your risk of developing bowel cancer, but the good news is that red meat can still be enjoyed in moderation as part of a healthy balanced diet. This combined with an active lifestyle, and awareness of the symptoms and risk factors, could help protect you from the UK’s second biggest cancer killer.”

Peter Baker, Chief Executive Men’s Health Forum said: "Men who enjoy regular breakfast fry-ups or roast beef dinners will be surprised to learn that eating too much red or processed meat might increase their risk of bowel cancer.

“Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer and the second most common cause of cancer death in the UK. Many men could be putting themselves at increased risk as they tend to eat more red and processed meat than women.

“We're not saying men can't occasionally enjoy a bacon sandwich or some sausages for breakfast - but the evidence tells us we need to think about cutting down on how much red and processed meat we're eating. This is a health benefit surely worth giving up a few sausages for."

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