You’ve probably heard the news: A World Health Organization (WHO) report says processed meats, like hot dogs, ham and sausage, cause colon cancer and red meat, like beef and pork, is strongly linked to the disease. The connection isn’t new. What’s making headlines now is that the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a respected arm of WHO, made the pronouncement after evaluating more than 800 studies.
The IARC classified processed meat like bacon, ham, sausage and hot dogs as a “definite” cause of cancer, or a Group 1 carcinogen—the same group that includes smoking and alcohol. Red meat, including beef, veal, pork and lamb, was said to “probably” cause cancer.
Good news: The foods you eat can decrease your risk, too. One recent study showed a pescatarian diet—dominated by fruits and vegetables and including a moderate amount of fish—is associated with a 45 percent reduced risk for colorectal cancers compared to people whose diets include meat.
Alok Khorana, MD, is director of the Cleveland Clinic Gastrointestinal Cancer Program.