“Ban the bacon!” and “Hot dogs as carcinogenic as asbestos, cigarettes!”: these are the kinds of headlines we saw in Fall 2015 when the World Health Organization released the findings of several studies showing links between red and processed meat consumption and increased risks of colon cancer.
Posts are always popping up in our Facebook newsfeeds about what we should and should not eat in order to avoid cancer and other diseases – it’s hard to know who and what to take seriously.
At GetCheckedManitoba.ca we take colon cancer screening very seriously because colon cancer is the second-most deadly cancer for men (next to lung cancer) and third-most deadly cancer for women (next to lung and breast cancers) in Manitoba. But it is also one of the most treatable – 90% treatable, in fact – when it’s detected early.
The research findings by the WHO are something we should take seriously when it comes to the health of our colons – but let’s clarify some of the facts:
What is red meat?
Red meat comes from: beef, lamb, pork, veal and goat.
What is processed meat?
Processed meat is any meat that has been transformed by smoking, curing, salting, or adding any other chemicals or preservatives, for example: ham, bacon, sausages, salami, hot dogs and cold cuts. (It is primarily from the addition of the preservatives nitrates and nitrites).
Is processed meat as bad for me as smoking cigarettes?
No. The International Association for Research on Cancer (IARC) has deemed processed meats to be in Group 1: Carcinogenic to Humans – the same group where you’d see cigarettes and asbestos – because the evidence states that eating processed meats DOES increase your risk of colon cancer.
However, take this example:
In some studies, people with diets high in processed meat were almost two times as likely to have colon cancer, compared to people who consumed the least processed meat.
BUT smoking cigarettes increases your risk of numerous cancers (including colon and breast) by 20 times, when compared with non-smokers.
That is to say, if you are eating processed meat at each meal of the day, it could be as dangerous to your colon as smoking is to your overall health, but eating a serving (two strips) of bacon with your weekend brunch or roasting a hotdog over the campfire every now and then has very little effect on your risk of colon cancer.
Should I stop eating red meat?
Eating red meat is a personal choice. If you enjoy beef, pork, lamb, etc. as part of your regular diet, you are getting important nutrients from those dishes, including protein, B vitamins, iron and zinc. The WHO recommends limiting your red meat intake to 18oz or less per week – this means about three servings, each about the size of a deck of cards. If you consistently eat more than 18oz of red meat per week, your risk of colon cancer increases.
The best things you can do for the health of your colon (and your health overall!) are:
- Eat a healthy diet
- Do not smoke cigarettes
- Keep active and maintain a healthy weight
- Limit alcohol
- Get checked!
Getting checked for colon cancer is a simple screening test that you can do at home, and it is the best way to protect yourself against colon cancer because it can detect colon cancer early (long before you may experience symptoms), when 90% of the time it is completely treatable, and can prevent colon cancer before it starts. ColonCheck mails the test to Manitobans age 50-74 every two years to get screened for free. For more information, visit GetCheckedManitoba.ca or call 1-855-95-CHECK.