The World Health Organization has previously stated that consuming large amounts of processed meat products may cause cancer, but a new review of the literature on the subject is now backing up the claim that salami, hot dogs, bacon, sausage, corned beef, ham, and other preserved meats may cause cancer.
There are several theories for how processed meat may contribute to cancer risk, including that the added salt might react with the meat to create a carcinogen. Experts, however, are still saying the risk of cancer induced by processed meat is very small and that the results of the review should be taken with a grain of salt.
The review covered 15 studies, including data on more than one million women, and demonstrated a link between high intake of processed meat and a nine percent increase in breast cancer risk. However, the definition of “high” is arbitrary and treated differently in each study.
The studies also only prove a correlation, not causation, so we do not know for sure that processed meat is the culprit here. It is quite possible that women who ate more processed meat also happened to take part in other unhealthy activities that could be contributing to their cancer risk.
Even if processed meats are to blame for increased cancer risk, a nine percent jump in risk is roughly the equivalent of one extra cancer case per 100 women. So while meats that have been smoked, cured, or otherwise preserved could potentially contribute slightly to your cancer risk, many people think there’s no reason to be up in arms over it just yet.
If you do eat a great deal of processed meat on a regular basis, however, you might want to consider cutting back on it just in case. The NHS recommends eating no more than 70 grams of red and processed meat a day, roughly the equivalent of three slices of ham.
Experts are hoping future studies will follow up on these claims to get a better understanding of processed meat’s contribution to cancer risk and help determine whether it’s actually important to cut back on or eliminate it from healthy diets.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?