Processed meat can cause cancer, World Health Organisation says

Processed meat such as bacon, ham and sausages can cause cancer, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said.

Experts found eating 50g portion of processed meat - less than two slices of bacon - increases the risk of bowel cancer by 18%.

The WHO report listed processed meat as a cancer-causing substance along with alcohol, asbestos, arsenic and cigarettes.

Red meat is also "probably" carcinogenic (cancer-causing), WHO said.

Watch Health Editor Rachel Younger's report:

Here's what we learned from today's report:

  • So what did the World Health Organisation report say?

WHO classified processed meat as carcinogenic (cancer-causing) based on "sufficient evidence" it causes bowel cancer.

Carcinogenic is the highest of five possible rankings along with alcohol, asbestos, arsenic and cigarettes.

It also classified red meat as "probably" carcinogenic based on "limited evidence" it causes some cancers such as bowel, pancreatic and prostate cancers.

Experts found that each 50g portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer, also known as bowel cancer, by 18%.

50g

portion of processed meat each day, such as two slices of bacon, raises risk of bowel cancer by 18%

18%

increased risk of getting bowel cancer by eating 50g of processed meat daily

  • What counts as processed meat?

Credit: PA

Processed meat is meat which has been preserved by smoking, curing or salting or by the addition of preservatives.

Examples include:

  • Ham

  • Bacon

  • Pastrami

  • Salami

  • Hot dogs

  • Sausages

  • Corned beef

  • Beef jerky

  • What counts as red meat?

  • Lamb

  • Beef

  • Pork

  • Hamburgers

  • So what do the experts say about the findings?

These findings further support current public health recommendations to limit intake of meat.

Dr Christopher Wild, director of IARC

For an individual, the risk of developing colorectal cancer because of their consumption of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed. In view of the large number of people who consume processed meat, the global impact on cancer incidence is of public health importance.

Dr Kurt Straif, from the IARC, the cancer agency of WHO

Welcoming the report, Professor Tim Key from Cancer Research UK, said there was "substantial evidence" for a link between meat eating and bowel cancer but he stressed "eating a bacon bap once in a while isn't going to do much harm - having a healthy diet is all about moderation."

  • Is this all new?

The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) has warned for several years that there is "strong evidence" that consuming a lot of red meat can cause bowel cancer.

It also says there is "strong evidence" that processed meats - even in smaller quantities - increase cancer risk.

The WCRF advises that people can reduce their bowel cancer risk by eating no more than 500g (cooked weight) per week of red meat.

It also says people should eat processed meats as little as possible.