Processed meat linked to pancreatic cancer, suggests study

By Nathan Gray

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Pancreatic cancer Meat Nutrition Red meat

Researchers have again suggested a link between the consumption of processed meats and cancer. Scientists from Sweden claim that consumption of manufactured meat is associated with an increased risk of pancreatic cancer.

The study – published in the British Journal of Cancer​ – investigates possible links between meat consumption and pancreatic cancer by analysing data from more than two million people in previous studies in a meta-analysis.

The results of the investigation suggest that processed meat consumption is linked to pancreatic cancer risk – with an extra 50 grams of processed meat a day increasing the risk of pancreatic cancer risk by 19% - while red meat consumption is associated with an increased risk of pancreatic cancer in men only.

The research team, lead by Professor Susanna Larsson of the Karolinska Institute, warned that whilst the risk of pancreatic cancer was increased, the fact that it is rare disease means that a person’s lifetime risk of pancreatic cancer is still very small – even with a 19% increase in risk.

“This meta-analysis showed a statistically significant positive association between processed meat consumption and risk of pancreatic cancer,”​ reported the researchers.

“Red meat consumption was not associated with risk of pancreatic cancer overall, but was positively associated with risk in men,”​ they added.

The team also said that further research, in the form of large prospective studies “with better adjustment for potential confounders”​ are needed to establish any potential association between red and processed meat consumption and pancreatic cancer risk.

Red meat and cancer

Lots of attention – and headlines – have already been dedicated to the health risks said to be associated with consumption of red meat.

High consumption has been associated with many poor health outcomes​, including diabetes​, cardiovascular disease​, and several types of cancer (including lung and colorectal​, prostate​, and bladder​)

In 2007 the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) published a report that directly linked diet to cancer, reporting that red and processed meats posing particular risks. However, analysis of data from over a half million people in Europe, as part of the EPIC study, recently found no association between dietary intakes of red meat and the risk of bladder cancer (EPIC study previously reported here​).

Last year a second report from the WCRF (reported here​) ‘confirmed’ that red and processed meats increase risk of bowel cancer and recommended limiting red meat consumption and completely avoiding processed meats.

Research details

The new systematic review combined the results of 11 studies that investigated associations between red and processed meat consumption and the risk of pancreatic cancer. The studies featured over 2 million participants in total, and all assessed participants’ food consumption and whether this was later linked to pancreatic cancer development.

Larsson and her team noted that all 11 studies examined the link between red meat and the cancer – with none finding a significant association between the two. However, when separated and analysed for men and women, the researchers found a link between red meat consumption and pancreatic cancer in men, they said.

In addition, the team reported that analysis of the seven studies examining the association between processed meat consumption and pancreatic cancer, revealed an overall increase in risk of the cancer in line with increased processed meat intake. They said that consumption of 50g a day was associated with a 19% increased risk.

Source: British Journal of Cancer
Published online ahead of print, doi: ​10.1038/bjc.2011.585
“Red and processed meat consumption and risk of pancreatic cancer: meta-analysis of prospective studies”
Authors: S.C. Larsson, A. Wolk

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1 comment

Poorly controlled epidemiology again

Posted by Dr Carrie Ruxton, dietitian,

If EFSA were to consider this research, would they ban processed meat? Probably not. This is because all the recent media stories claiming adverse health effects for red and processed meats are based on poorly controlled epidemiology, not randomised controlled trials. In the meta-analysis reported here, few confounding variables were taken into account - namely smoking, age and, in a few studies, body mass index. The authors also estimated intakes of processed meat when this was not reported by the primary research. So, the impact of sedentary lifestyles, high intakes of saturated fat, low intakes of fruit and vegetables, and low nutrient intakes were completely ignored. Therefore, how do we know if the people consuming higher intakes of processed meat were not also sedentary and overweight with unhealthy diets? We cannot tell from the current evidence so this is a poor basis for public health messages. My advice? Eat mainly lean meat within a healthy balanced diet. Then the occasional bacon sandwich or salami meal will not harm you!

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