Growing evidence of link between processed meat and breast cancer

The warning comes after a major review of data on more than one million women from 15 studies

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Doctors have reiterated warnings about eating excessive amounts of processed meat after a further link was established between its consumption and cancer.

According to a study published in The International Journal of Cancer, women who consumed high levels of processed meat faced a 9 per cent increase in their risk of breast cancer, compared to those who ate only a little.

The American Institute for Cancer Research defines processed meat as "meat preserved by smoking, curing or salting, or the addition of chemical preservatives". That includes everything from deli meat to sausages and hot dogs.

The review included data on more than one million women from 15 studies that each used different definitions of excessive consumption. In one study, high consumption of processed meat was defined as more than nine grammes a day, while in others it was a lot higher.

However, some doctors have urged people to treat the findings with caution.

“This is an observational study and not a randomised study,” said Dr Sai Babu Jonnada, a consultant oncologist at Al Zahra Hospital Sharjah.

Other doctors also point out that people who eat excessive amounts of processed meats may also be prone to other unhealthy behaviours.

“The person who would not be conscious of the amount of meat that they are eating, they would probably not be cautious of smoking, drinking and doing regular exercise on a daily basis,” said Dr Tamer Abdelgawad, medical director of Advanced Care Oncology Centre.

Dr Jonnada said the results of the study suggest that people do not have to cut processed meat out completely – but it would be advisable to reduce their consumption of it.


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The link between processed food and cancer is already well established, say doctors.

In 2015, processed meat was classified as a carcinogen, or cause of cancer, by The International Agency for Research on Cancer.

And earlier this year, a study published in the British Medical Journal established a link between the disease and highly processed foods, such as cakes, chicken nuggets and mass produced bread.

The problem with processed meat is that its consistency is altered during production by adding salt or chemicals, say experts.

“By doing so, you are changing the tissue and at the same time you are increasing the oxidants in your body,” said Dr Abdelgawad.

“Creating a huge amount of these oxidants could create a link to cancer.”

However, there are many factors in the development of cancer, particularly when it comes to breast cancer, according to doctors.

“Everyone has a baseline risk of developing cancer based on their family history and genetic make-up and this can’t be changed unfortunately, yet,” said Dr Jonnada.

“It varies from person to person. We can avoid increasing this inherent risk by living a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, not smoking, a healthy diet and so on.”

Dr. Abdelgawad suggests a diet consisting mainly of vegetables, with protein derived mainly from fish like salmon, rather than red meat for three or four days a week. Red meat should be limited to two days and one day should be completely vegetarian, said Dr. Abdelgawad.

“Another very important thing we should do to protect ourselves is to have a good amount of fluids daily,” he said.

“This is very important. By fluid I mean water mainly because we shouldn’t be using coffee and tea because it has a lot of issues.”

Exercise is also important, said Dr Abdelgawad.

“Even if it’s just a 25 minute walk each day,” he said.