Processed meat causes cancer

There's been a huge amount of discussion about this, so let's set the record straight:

Eating processed meat definitely increases your risk of certain cancers by a small amount.

Eating red meat may increase your risk of certain cancers by a small amount.

Cancer is such a scare-story that news outlets have been glossing over the detail in a race to get a simplified (and inaccurate) message to their audiences as quickly as possible.

Over 800 studies were examined by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), so this is a large study. Studies of this size help ensure that any apparent effects are less likely to be due to chance, and more likely to be genuine.

A key piece of information that has been lost is that the IARC simply identifies cancer hazards, it doesn't say how potent any particular hazard might be.

This is about how convincing the evidence is, not the degree to which meat is bad for you.

As Cancer Research UK put it:

[A] prolonged high-meat diet isn't terribly good for you. But a steak, bacon sandwich or sausage bap a few times a week probably isn't much to worry about. And overall the risks are much lower than for other things linked to cancer – such as smoking.

Cancer Research infographic about risks of cancer from eating processed meat

For more on this subject, I highly recommend reading what Cancer Research UK have to say.

And perhaps cast a critical eye over the advice of anyone peddling a diet that recommends eating large amounts of processed or red meat.

Incidentally, I've written about this before.