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Cancer Connection Found With Red Meat, Processed Meats

Dec 12, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP

Red meat and processed meats have been linked to several types of cancers, including lung cancer and colorectal cancer, according to a report issued yesterday by US researchers.

A study of half a million men and women found that those who ate the most red meat exhibited an increased risk of developing diseases like colorectal, liver, lung, and esophageal cancer compared with those who ate the least red and processed meats.  The authors say their results demonstrate that one in ten colorectal and one in ten lung cancers could be avoided if people ate less red and processed meat and are now conducting a review of literature investigating the association between meat intake and cancer risk.

The work is the first large study to show a link between meat and lung cancer and also indicates that people who eat a lot of meat have a higher risk of liver and esophageal cancer and that men raise their risk of pancreatic cancer by eating red meat.  The researchers studied 500,000 healthy people aged 50 to 71—during 1995 and 1996—who took part in a diet and health study conducted in conjunction with the AARP, formerly the American Association for Retired Persons.  Study participants were divided into groups according to their consumption of red and processed meat.  Those in the highest category ate about 3.5oz (100g) a day, while those in the lowest group ate approximately 1.1oz (32g) of red meat per day.

After eight years, 53,396 cases of cancer were diagnosed.  The report revealed that statistically significant elevated risks—ranging in numbers from 20 percent to 60 percent—were evident for esophageal, colorectal, liver, and lung cancer, comparing individuals in the highest with those in the lowest quintile of red meat intake.  The people in the top 20 percent of those eating processed meat had a 20 percent higher risk of colorectal cancers—mostly rectal cancer—and a 16 percent higher risk for lung cancer.  The researchers add that red meat intake was linked with an elevated risk for cancers of the esophagus and liver.

By decreasing the consumption of red and processed meat one could reduce the incidence of cancer at multiple sites according to researchers at the US National Cancer Institute whose report was published in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS Medicine.

The report indicated that consuming meat could trigger cancer through the production of higher levels of reactive chemicals, known as free radicals, in the body and that both red meat and processed meat are sources of saturated fat and iron, which have independently been associated with carcinogenesis, or causing cancer.

Last month, experts from the World Cancer Researcher Fund said that the average person should eat no more than 17.5oz (500g) of red meat per week to reduce their risk of developing bowel cancer.

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