WHO Declares That Processed Meats Causes Cancer

Credit: Morgue File

Credit: Morgue File

The World Health Organization declares that eating processed meat such as sausages, hot dogs, ham and more causes cancer, while unprocessed red meat may also be carcinogenic.

Dr. Nina Radcliff, a Board Certified Anesthesiologist and a member of the American Society of Anesthesiologists, spoke with The Hot Zone’s Brittani Medina about her view on the effect of processed meats are causing cancer.

WHO’s cancer research unit now classifies processed meat as “carcinogenic to humans” based on evidence from hundreds of studies, and linked it specifically to colon, or colorectal, cancer.

“We’ve known for some time and we suspected–we’ve seen links before that the processed meats and even red meats are associated with this. We don’t know exactly how. It’s almost like pieces to a puzzle, we may have one piece but we don’t have the entire puzzle together. That’s what science is,” said Dr. Radcliff. “There are health experts who watch different things such as smoking. It took years! We have to have the science to back it up. We have suspected and that’s why we recommend healthy diets consisting of lean meats, fruits, and vegetables.”

The report outlined that simply eating 50 grams of processed meat each day  which happens to be the equivalent of two slices of ham–can increase the risk of such cancer by 18%. However, the authors say the risks are relatively small to begin with.

“Eating one serving of bacon will not cause colorectal cancer or any other type of cancers. We’ve watched people eat large amounts of processed meats on a daily basis and those are the people who should be concerned,” said Dr. Radcliff. “They should be looking at ways to decrease eating it consistently.”

With every food being processed including fruits and vegetables, Dr. Radcliff was asked if that is something we would have to worry about.

“It is possible. I do know for this time. There is a lot that we do not know. Fruits and vegetables, they come from the ground,” said Dr. Radcliff. “They are full of nutrients, vitamins and antioxidants. We are concerned about if they are pesticides use for it. The more natural, the better.”

The organization defines processed meat as any type of meat that is salted, cured or smoked to enhance its flavor or preserve it. Processed meat generally contains pork or beef, but may also contain poultry, according to CNN. 

The WHO now classifies processed meat in the same category as smoking and asbestos, based on its certainty of a link with cancer, but stressed that did not mean they were equally dangerous.

Unprocessed red meat such as steak and lamb shanks is classified as “probably carcinogenic.

“The key is the more knowledge we have about the things we can consume–we can make better choices,” said Dr. Radcliff. “This is an additional piece of information to make it more solid that people can now start thinking in making better decisions for themselves.”

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