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Red meat again linked to cancer risk: Study

By Stephen Daniells , 08-Oct-2009

Increased intakes of red meat may increase the risk of prostate cancer, with the meat’s heme iron content one of the possible culprits, says a new study from the US.

Writing in the American Journal of Epidemiology, researchers from the National Cancer Institute report that high intake of red meat may increase the risk of prostate cancer by 12 per cent.

Furthermore, red meat may increase the risk of advanced prostate cancer by 30 per cent, wrote the researchers, led by Dr Rashmi Sinha from the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics.

The study adds to an ever increasing list of bad news for red and processed meat, following a previous study from the NCI that reported high intakes of red and processed meats may raise the risk of lung and colorectal cancer by up to 20 per cent.

The World Cancer Research Fund published a report in 2007 that directly linked diet to cancer, with alcohol and red and processed meats posing particular risks.

Earlier this year, the same authors published similar findings from a study with half a million people, noting that that increased consumption of red and processed meat may have a modestly increased risk of death from all causes and also from cancer or heart disease (Archives of Internal Medicine, Vol 169, pp. 562-571).

The Archives study was described by Barry Popkin from the University of North Carolina as “excellent” in an accompanying editorial. Popkin added that the results “reiterate the concerns echoed in other major reviews and studies on the adverse effects of excessive meat intake”.

Study details

The new study analysed data from 175,343 American men aged between 50 and 71. Meat consumption, including the type, the cooking method used, and the related intakes of heme iron, and nitrites and nitrates were calculated.

Over nine years of study, 10,313 cases of prostate cancer were diagnosed, with 419 deaths from the disease. The highest average intakes of red and processed meat were associated with 12 and 7 per cent increases in the risk of prostate cancer, wrote the authors.

Furthermore, increased consumption of heme iron was associated with a 9 per cent increase in prostate cancer, and a 28 per cent increase in advanced prostate cancer. Intakes of barbecued/grilled meat and benzo[alpha-]pyrene were associated with an 11 and 9 per cent increase in the risk of total prostate cancer, and a 36 and 28 per cent increase in advance prostate cancer.

“Red and processed meat may be positively associated with prostate cancer via mechanisms involving heme iron, nitrite/nitrate, grilling/barbecuing, and benzo[a]pyrene,” concluded the National Cancer Institute scientists.

Source: American Journal of Epidemiology
Published online ahead of print, doi:10.1093/aje/kwp280
“Meat and Meat-related Compounds and Risk of Prostate Cancer in a Large Prospective Cohort Study in the United States”
Authors: R. Sinha, Y. Park, B.I. Graubard, M.F. Leitzmann, A. Hollenbeck, A. Schatzkin, A.J. Cross